Sunday, April 22, 2007


I was talking with one of my former seminary students who now works at a Wesley Foundation at a major university in the South. She and her charges had been busy sending support to the Va. Tech students in the wake of the massacre in Blacksburg. Everyone had been praying and wringing their hands about what can be done. This horrific experience raised some important ethical concerns.

Where is the moral outrage about the ability of even mentally whacked out people to buy guns in this country? You heard none of the potential Presidential candidates saying anything about the need for tighter gun control laws last week. Indeed, hardly a member of Congress was saying anything. You might find this passing strange since over 80% of all Americans in recent polls have been all in favor of more gun control in this country. Why is this such a hard sell? Well because the 10-20% of those Americans who aren’t in favor of stricter gun control are better organized and they’ve got the NRA and the gun lobby to work for their point of view. It’s the best organized and the squeaky wheels which get the grease in our society.

It is interesting to me that even most American Christians, when they discuss these things, discuss them in terms of their Constitutional rights to bear firearms. They don’t ask whether the New Testament might have anything to say about Christian conduct in this regard. Never mind that the original strict constructionists of the Constitution had in mind that the colonies had a right to a militia and private citizens could keep their hunting rifles. They could never have envisioned young adults packing multiple round pistols or adults carting around AK 47s because they think they have a Constitutional right to do so. I would reject the NRA’s interpretation of the Constitution on these points, but that is a debate for another day. My question is--- are their ethical teachings in the New Testament that have a bearing as to whether Christians, as private citizens, should be bearing arms? Well yes, in fact there are texts to consider.

Let’s start with first of all the unequivocal NT principle that Christians are never to engage in taking revenge. Perhaps the plainest statement of this fact is found in Romans 12—Paul, writing to Roman Christians says this “Do not repay anyone evil for evil….If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. Do not take revenge, my friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written “it is mine to avenge, I will repay” says the Lord. On the contrary “If your enemy is hungry, feed him. If he is thirsty give him something to drink. In doing this you will heap burning coals on his head. Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” (12.17-21).

This is a reasonably clear statement of the basic Christian principle of “no retaliation”, but in fact it goes further by adding that instead of retaliation one is to do good even to one’s enemies, to ‘kill them with kindness’ as the old cliché goes. Notice the reference to enemies. Even enemies are not excluded from love and concern and indeed from ministering to at the point of their needs. The basic underlying issue here is leaving justice in God’s hands, rather than taking matters into our own hands. Even if someone does you a grave wrong, you are not to respond in kind, but rather leave it to God to deal with the perpetrator.

Does loving one’s enemies include enemies who are currently in the process of doing you harm? Well yes it does. Notice these two clauses back to back—“love your enemies and pray for those who are persecuting you that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes the sun to rise on the just and the unjust…” (Mt. 5.43-45). These of course are the words of Jesus, and among other things they rule out loving your enemies to death at the point of a gun. In context this saying teaches us a lot: 1) instead of responding with violence to violence we should be praying for those who are persecuting us. Notice it does not say praying about those who are persecuting us (for instance praying God will eliminate them quickly). No, this is about wishing them well, praying for their good and not their harm, just as Paul suggested in Rom. 12. It’s about overcoming evil with good. Notice as well that Jesus expects his disciples to be emulating the beneficent behavior of God the Father who blesses both the just and unjust with needed sunshine and precious rain. God is here depicted as indiscriminantly gracious-- pro-active, rather than reactive.

What about the famous text in Lk. 22.36-38 where Jesus seems to advise the disciples to go out and obtain a weapon? Again context is king here. Remember this is the same Jesus who: 1) advised that those who live by the sword will die by the sword and 2) who immediately put a stop to Peter’s violence against the high priest’s slave, and indeed reversed it’s effects by healing the man’s ear. So what is the meaning of this little story, taking into account the larger context of Jesus’ teaching? Vs. 37 is the key where Jesus quotes Is. 53.12—“he was numbered with the transgressors”. Jesus is saying to the disciples—you must fulfill your role as transgressors of what I have taught you!!! They must play the part of those who do exactly the opposite of what Jesus taught them in the Sermon on the Mount. The disciples become transgressors by seeking out weapons and then seeking to use them. This much is perfectly clear from the context for the disciples then go on to say “look Lord here is two swords”. They already have such weapons and Jesus responds in disgust to the fact that they are already transgressing his principles of non-violence by responding “that’s enough” (of this nonsense).

Clearly, Jesus knew that two swords would not be enough to hold off a Roman legion, so we must take his response as highly ironic not as straight forward. Either he says ironically “oh that will be plenty”, or more likely as I have suggested, he means “that will be enough” of this foolishness. Either way, there is absolutely no endorsement here by Jesus of his followers using weapons. Carrying weapons makes them fulfill the role of transgressors, as the citation of Is. 53.12 makes evident.

I could go on looking at text after text, but by now the point is clear--- both Jesus and Paul were opposed to the use of violence by mere mortals particularly their disciples, especially the use of violence as a form of vengeance. Vengeance was supposed to be in God’s hands, and this brings us to one more point. Jesus’ action in the temple is an example of God in the person of his Son taking vengeance against sin in his Holy Place. It is not an example of a mere human being given permission to do such things. This is why Jesus cites the Scripture “zeal for my house has consumed me”. The “my” in question is God of course, and so Jesus is acting in a divine role there. Even so, it should be noted that he does no physical harm at all to any human beings. The most one could get out of this story in Mk. 11 and par. is that justice, even when it comes to justice in the house of God, should be left to the hands of the divine.

What is the ethical cash value of the call to non-violence and non-retaliation in the NT when it comes to gun control? Several things should be said. In the first place it is just common sense, even if one is not a Christian, to believe that law enforcement should be left in the hands of the trained professionals--- the police and the military. I am frankly incredulous that we simply ignore the repeated pleas and cries of the police for tougher gun control laws, so that they will not be sitting ducks while trying to do their own jobs. This inherent contradiction in the rhetoric of the gun lobby makes no sense at all. The police are absolutely right—there are whole categories of weapons than cannot be called weapons of self-protection but rather are weapons of war, and no mere amateur or private citizen should have an inalienable right to own one.

For example, I am referring to automatic weapons such as machine guns, AK 47s, or the sort of weapons Mr. Cho was able to buy. These are not in any sense mere hunting weapons nor are they like a personal hand gun, such as a revolver. These weapons, which require large bullet clips, have no purpose except the destruction of human lives on a massive scale. Even if one believes owning a gun is alright for self protection or hunting purposes, no Christian should be endorsing the right of anyone to own these sorts of WMDs which wrek havoc with our police, and empower gangs, drug dealers, and crazed individuals to create one tragedy after another.

At this juncture in the argument, someone usually points to Canada. Canada does indeed, at least in some cases, have more liberal gun laws than America. They have far fewer killings as well. Why is that? It has to do with the Rambo and wild west history of America, a history unlike the history of Canada in various respects. The British Empire, including Canada, had a long history of training people in restraint, in not using violence to try and solve human problems. That history is still in play in Canada. They did not, in the way the American colonies did, perpetrate a revolution against British rule.

Ever since our Founding Fathers, we have believed in the use of violence to establish our claims upon the land, and to maintain those claims. We still believe violence works. This was the basis of going to war in Iraq—“a military solution”. Here is where I say, that as America becomes a less and less Christian country, with less and less restraint on all sorts ethical issues WHAT WE NEED IS NOT LESS GUN CONTROL, WE NEED MORE. When the society becomes more and more ill, sinful, dysfunctional, what is needed is less access to the ability to create havoc and mayhem by using major weapons.

In surely one of the greatest ironies in recent American history a Romanian Holocaust survivor who taught at Virginia Tech, on Holocaust remembrance day, deliberately got in the way of Mr. Cho’s bullets, laying down his life to save some of his students. This is precisely what Jesus had in mind when he said “greater love has no one, than he lay down his life for his friends”. Lives can indeed be saved by such sacrifices, and even the most dedicated pacifist should be ready to intervene in this way to stop the violence.

Christians believe they have the gift of eternal life. They do not need to be protecting their own lives at all costs. This simply isn’t necessary for a Christian. Of course it is true that Christians who have families must take that into consideration when seeking to act sacrificially in a dangerous situations, but nevertheless, in principle the idea that Jesus put before his disciples was to be prepared to take up their crosses and be martyred, as he was. It is forgiveness and self-sacrificial love, even to the point of dying, not killing, which stops the cycle of violence and upholds what God has in mind for all his children. This is what Jesus’ own death teaches us, and notice he was even busy forgiving his tormentors while dying on the cross.

The prophets told us that God’s goal was to get us to the point where we would one day, at least by the eschaton, beat our swords into plowshares, and study war no more. Every Christian has a chance to be a preview of that coming Kingdom now, if they will live by the principles of non-violence that Jesus modeled for, and taught all, human beings. What would happen if all, or a large majority of the Christians in America took seriously such a mandate? What would happen if more of us behaved like the Amish in western Pennsylvania and the way last year they handled the carnage wrought on their children in a small school house? I do not know what would happen humanly speaking. The world would likely see it as weakness, not meekness. But this I know—Jesus would be smiling. The words of the exalted Lord to Paul was “why are you persecuting me?” Any attack on Jesus’ people, is an attack on Jesus. And so the response should be left in Jesus’ hands. “Vengeance is mine sayeth the Lord—I will repay.” Think on these things.


David Wilson said...

We'll have to agree and disagree. I'd agree that it's entirely sensible to make sure using the laws that people are mentally able to exercise the right to bear arms, just as we make sure a person is mentally and physically able to drive a car. In the VT case, Cho should have been prohibited by virtue of his mental illness being recognized by the court and being referred for counseling. In some states he would have been prohibited from purchasing a handgun. That should be the case in all states. Most gun owners and even NRA members would agree. (BTW, I have been both, but let membership lapse in the NRA years back)

Most would be in favor of mandatory waiting periods, government background checks or instant checks, even mandatory training classes prior to any purchase.

So this Christian is for gun control, always has been.

From there we part ways. The idea that the police can protect us is ludicrous and has just been proven so again. There are wolves out there and sorry, not enough sheep dogs to go around in a society that values its openness and privacy.

Throwing out the AK-47 toting phrase is also off the mark, because to own a legal AK-47 just means you own a gun that looks mean but functions just like your uncle's winchester deer rifle, only less accurately. I've only known two people in 40 years of owning guns and shooting that held the necessary permits to own real "assault weapons". Unless it's an automatic, it just looks meaner. It's like legislating cars because they look faster.

The case from the Bible carries more weight. But in application are you really saying that I cannot protect myself and my family? Take revenge off the table and let's talk about protection. Jesus' words with the two swords would be a funny if the idea was taking on a legion, but to make sure you made it from Jericho to Jerusalem though a bandit infested cartpath... well, two swords might be enough.

I can "hear" your concern, even I think anguish in what you wrote, and I can assure you that you are joined by the vast majority of people who own firearms. I for one emailed my Senators and congressman to ask if FL cooperates with the Feds on mental screening. No answer yet.

But are you saying that based on Scripture I have no right to protect my life and the lives of my family with a firearm? I'd really like to hear your answer, and I will respect you and it regardless of what it is.


David Wilson

Kevin said...

The evidence has not established that Mr. Cho was mentally "whacked out." There is evidence that he made a moral choice: to get revenge for slights perpetrated against himself.

Your recommendations were followed precisely: no student or faculty, Christian or otherwise, raised a hand against Mr. Cho to cause him pain or physical harm. Mr. Cho ended the carnage on his own terms.

Perhaps if he had been incapable of getting a gun, he could not have done this. However, guns exist and nothing will ever change that.

It seems that since the "basic Christian principle" of "no retaliation" was followed in this case. If you are disappointed in the outcome of the Virginia Tech shootings, why not let Christians and others defend themselves? I can't see where having fewer students dead would be a worse outcome than what we have.

Certainly we are amoral if we see evil coming to our house to do our families harm, and take no action to oppose it. Even the unarmed Amish farmer would be willing and able to make deadly force with a hickory axe handle.

Most of all, I don't understand your seeming exception for the revolver. Revolvers fire just as rapidly as 9mm semi-automatics, and they reload almost as fast. Are not the revolver and axe handle equally instruments of WMD?

If I do not oppose evil with deadly force when necessary, how am I different from evil?

When contemplating the greatest love -- laying down my life for my friends -- I had always envisioned saving my friends from some great evil. Do I have the wrong interpretation of this?

Alan said...

Thank you for articulating far better than I could a Christian Biblical response to this unspeakable horror.

I too am in favor of tighter gun controls. At the same time I must admit that I fear Cho was just rational enough that he probably would have still find ways to get the weapons he needed to do his destructive deed.

May we continue to seek the 'ways that make for peace.'

Michael Lynn said...

Dr. Witherington,

1) How is it vengeance to defend yourself or others at the time of an attack? It seems to me that vengeance would be going back at a later time to exact retribution, not stopping someone from hurting others at the moment of attack.

2) You don't know much about guns. A reason that many persons purchase pistols with larger capacity magazines is because it usually is very difficult to hit anything with a pistol. (The reason that Cho was able to was because he had a psychotic calm and was shooting "fish in a barrell.") Police, for example, often shoot entire magazines without hitting a perpetrator. That's why a 15-round magazine is not as many as it may sound like.

3) Police are not against handgun carry permits. I have considered getting a carry permit. As part of my investigation, I felt it proper to ask police officers their opinion. I have asked approxmately 20 officers for their opinion. Of those, zero were against carry permits. Most were very much in favor. Only one made a cautionary statement, saying that using a gun would change your life forever. Try this for yourself. Ask officers in the Lexington area what they think. The results may surprise you.

4) How do you compare the VT case to the one in West VA several years ago, when a massacre at a law school was stopped by students who ran to their cars to retrieve their legally carried handguns? (Interestingly, this was barely reported by the media.)

5) For your argument to be consistent, you would have to be willing to refuse to dial 911 if a shooter showed up at ATS. After all, the police might kill or injure him or her. If you say you would dial 911, you're like the person who complains about hunting, while eating a hamburger. You want others to kill your animals for you. In the case of the shooter, you would be willing for others to risk their lives to protect you when you won't do it yourself.

Thank you.

Michael Lynn

Peter Kirk said...

Ben, from my UK perspective I simply cannot imagine why any Christian could possibly fail to support gun control. This is an idea whose time should have come decades or centuries ago. Indeed it came two millennia ago, when Jesus told his disciples to put away their swords.

Meanwhile perhaps you should compare yourselves not so much with Canada as with the UK. Our gun control has always been tighter than yours, but was tightened further after the Dunblane massacre of 16 school children in 1996. Now almost all handguns are prohibited.

I note from UN data that the figure for "Total recorded intentional homicides committed with a firearm" in the USA in 2001 was 3.12 per 100,000 population, whereas the figure for England and Wales was 0.16. (Compare Canada: 0.54.) Go figure!

I note that after Dunblane "public feeling had turned against private gun ownership". I hope and pray that following the recent tragedy the same will happen in the USA.

C.P.O. said...

Dr. Witherington, thanks for posting this. I am in the process of trying to foreground my politically conservative background as I try to think through a biblically-informed response to this issue. Your post was helpful in that regard.

Like other commenters, I am wondering about where using deadly force in protecting oneself or others comes into play. Does it change things ethically if one has a uniform on? Is it equally wrong for a citizen or police officer to use deadly force in stopping someone bent on killing others?

I am trying to be a pacifist but I feel myself slipping more and more into Bonhoeffer's solution. Would love to hear your thoughts.

thanks, Todd

Ben Witherington said...

Hi Friends:

Good responses one and all. One element of the discussion which I did not put into this post since we have discussed it before is the very clear prohibition against 'killing' or murder (depending on your interpretation) encoded in the ten commandments, and reinforced by Jesus. When you add this to the mix, then this puts a different spin on this whole discussion. Jesus reaffirms no 'murder' or perhaps even 'no killing' in the context of these other teachings we have been discussing from the Sermon on the Mount. Killing someone in self-defense is still killing--- still a form of sin. You may well say, and many Christians will, that it is the lesser of two evils. I understand this reaction very well. I think it is one legitimate Christian view. My problem is that I wish to take all of Jesus's teachings equally seriously. Not just the ones I am comfortable with. I think it is safe to say that there are many ways to protect one's family short of using deadly force: 1) stand in the way while they get away; 2) offer yourself as a hostage while they get away; 3)call 911 quickly and hide until someone comes, if you have an intruder in the house; 4) use less that deadly force--- mace, hot water etc. There are so many more creative ways to respond other than using deadly force that time fails for me to list them all. My point is this--- most Americans too quickly leap to the conclusion that deadly force is the first and only safe option. False. Of course I am not saying one should stand idly by while you watch your family being slaughtered. I am however saying that deliberate killing in self-defense is still killing, and it is a sin. On this one, I definitely agree with the Amish and the Mennonites, God bless em.

We have addressed the issue of whether Christians should serve in the police or military before, so here I will just add that of course it is true that persons who have some official role to play in society have different rules to abide by whether that is a fireman, a policeman, an EMT person, or someone else. There are numerous things that are illegal for me to do on my own, that public officials can do. This is only right.

David, my challenge to you would be this--- I don't doubt you have the legal right to defend your family. I don't base my decisions on this matter on the basis of my legal rights under American law. My question is, will you do it in a Christian manner? Have you processed what that might look like for you?


Ben W.


Ben W.
Ben W.

mafutha said...

A correction.

The amish event took place in mid-southern PA. I work a few miles where it took place in Lancaster County.

Also the area embraced the widow of the killer and showered love on her. Have we done the same to the family of Cho?

Or have we come to show something else toward them and there "race"

I prefer praying for the family of the killer. They never asked for this.

Charlie said...

I'm sympathetic, Dr. Witherington. But I think you would have to extend your arguments, if you read the passages you cite honestly, to say that Christians should never be part of any armed force, not policemen/women, not soldiers, not security guards. Which would leave the protection of the weak and the government's authority to create a just society (also recognized by Paul) in the hands of non-believers only.

For instance, your argument would assume Christians should not have participated in armed opposition to Hitler in WWII.

And some, like the Quakers, have taken precisely that position. I think it's an abdication of one's responsibility to the society one benefits from as a citizen.

What is lacking in your argument is any sense of pragmatism. In a fallen world, even Christians need to recognize (with sorrow) that the use of legal force against evil men is justified in order to create a system of social justice and peace for those who are unable to defend themselves.

However, we can do more to try to keep lethal weapons out of the hands of evil-doers, or potential evil-doers. We can also create a much higher burden on those who want to purchase ultra-lethal ammunition, like the hollow-point bullets used by Cho.

Ever since we were evicted from the Garden, we have had to live pragmatically. Guns are legal, most guns never hurt anyone, but some are used to commit about 20,000 murders in the US annually. Abortion is also legal, and we know the bloody toll of that. Christians should neither murder nor abort their children, but in a pluralistic society, Christians often have to live with legal realities that are not what God intended.

David Wilson said...

"My question is, will you do it in a Christian manner? Have you processed what that might look like for you?"

Yes, I have. And we'll have to disagree. I would use whatever force was necessary to protect my family or anyone in danger. That might be none, as you suggest. But if need be, I would protect the innocent from the wolves.

I'll look forward to your next posts in the field you're familiar with.


Ben Witherington said...

Hi Charlie:
You are quite right, and that's exactly how it was in the first century. Christians did not serve in the military, and neither will I. So I am being consistent. There are many roles a person can play in society and be beneficial, and it is not required they all be one's that require force. I helped the VISTA folks, others went into the Peace Corps and so on. I think it is perfectly possible to be a good citizen while abstaining from the use of violence. I quite agree we live in a fallen world. This still does not require me to compromise my faith or ethics. I have another choice-- I can choose to avoid sin, and be willing to die. That is my choice.


Tortfeasor said...

One thing I think we can all agree on: we should all keep, at all times, a pot of boiling water on the stove in case it is needed to fight off an intruder.


Mike said...

Your premise has a huge gap in the logic. With all due respect, you state that Christians should never retaliate (even in self-defense if I am reading this correctly), however you advocate that the police should be allowed to do their jobs. This is a contradiction, unless you are suggesting that 1)all police are not Christians, or 2) Christians should not be in police work. Police may come across the need to "do violence" in their line of work. Would that extend to Christian police, or would those police who are Christians be in error by carrying out that particular part of their duty?

Mike said...

Also, what of the commands in the OT to stone certain people for certain offenses? I understand that the NT does not call for this because we live under the rule of Grace, however what you are saying is that until Christ's sacrifice, either 1)it was not sin to kill (which you have already affirmed is not the case) or 2)God was commanding people to sin in retribution for sin.

Timberwolf said...

Dr. Witherington,

You said, "There are so many more creative ways to respond other than using deadly force that time fails for me to list them all."

And I would say that in a crisis situation, time would fail for me to let my creative juices flow.
It is an inborn instinct to protect oneself and ones own, and as CS Lewis pointed out, there are no instincts of ours which are "bad" or "good". They are all eitherbad or good depending on the situation.

As for the Cho shooting, this situation was not do to a lack of gun control. It wasdo to thefact that long before heeven bought his guns, the police and campusadministration knew this guy was a dangerous nutcase, and did nothing.

I'll keep my .357. It has harmed no one, while pacifism harms everyone.

Stuart Smith

thegreatswalmi said...

thanks dr. witherington for your comments. living as an american citizen in canada, i'm grateful for the conversation and how it affects us all. one thing worth mentioning about the difference in the countries is the difficulty of owning and firing handguns in canada. sure we can own lots of guns, but it's harder to tuck that .22 rifle into your waistband. anywho...
it sounds to me like this board is rehashing age-old arguments for and against Christian pacifism. I'll state up front that i'm a pacifist, and i think very few of these arguments from the comments section hold much water theologically, but i'm not going to spend my time arguing. let me just say that i'm pleased to read a balanced and thoroughly Christian approach to gun control on your blog. thank you.

thegreatswalmi said...

ok ok, i know i said i wouldn't use my time to argue, but i had to, seeing the post above mine.

pacifism harms everyone?

it seems to me in many of the comments i've read that death is the worst thing we can imagine, and that we should be willing at a moment's notice to sin (and yes, i think the NT establishes quite well that murder is sinful, and i'd include killing in that) to avoid death. i love the writing of John howard Yoder. mennonite. he said in what would you do? that he knew his family believed in God. He didn't know if their hypothetical assailant did. Sending one to hell to keep the other out of heaven seems a bit offside.

just a thought. thanks again for sharing your thoughts with us.

in christ,

Timberwolf said...


You are so right. One cannot consistently be a real pacifist and allow for a police force. It is so hypocritical to say, "I am holy and will not fight, but I will the police whip 'em for me."

Another issue": Why is it when Jesus speaks about hating ones parents, or cutting off ones hand, or plucking ones eye out, we must take it as hyperbole, but we must be absolutely literal on the turn the other cheek, do not resist evildoers sayings? Keith Ward writes in his book "What The Bible Really Teaches" is that the second principle of biblical interpretation is the "Principle of Consistency". We must interpret like passages alike. As Ward puts it, "you should not take some sentences from the Sermon on the Mount literally "like 'do not swear at all'} when you take other sentences from the same sermon metaphorically, or as exaggerated statements to make a memorable point." {page 32}

I wish pacifists had the courage of their convictions, and would go to Afghanistan, Iran, Iraq or Darfur, and preach peace and non-violence to the terrorists. But don't hold your breath. They prefer to remain here, where they can sopeak with the freedom that non-pacifists secure for them.

Stuart Smith

Paul said...

Thank you Dr.W for a wonderful post. As a Canadian, the culture of fear that is prevalent in US seems to feed a mentality of finding security by any means necessary, and serious questions that you are asking of doing these in a Christian manner are glazed over...too bad...It is interesting that we look at historical stories of forgiveness and grace and yet quickly want our 'rights'. I wonder who we really surrender our lives and rights too...Jesus or earthly governments?

Unknown said...

It's obvious that however clear the NT is on what Christian discipleship means, our brothers and sisters are bent on nuancing the truth into what suits them. While many disagree with the substance of Dr. Witherington's post and all who actually read the NT know that he's right, there isn't a one who wishes to share their 'exegesis' on the Lord's call to peacefulness.

I guess the Colt peacemker is the gospel for today.

byron smith said...

Again, from an Australian point of view, this debate in the US is a million miles away. Like Peter Kirk of the UK, we have had even tighter gun control in the last decade or so after a massacre in Tasmania in 1996 in which 35 people were killed. Gun deaths in Australia are proportionally similar to the UK.

Historically, Christians who have thoughtfully held a just war theory have drawn a sharp distinction between the 'sword' wielded by the legitimate political authorities and the actions of citizens. Thus, there needn't be any contradiction in thinking that in certain circumstances the police have a right to use coercive force (which is to always be the minimum necessary - as Dr Witherington points out, this is very rarely deadly) while denying that this right is shared by citizens.

James Garth said...

Thanks for the thought-provoking post. I think the NT makes an unambiguous case that as Christians we are called to a 'higher ethic' of breaking the cycle of violence by refusing to perpetuate it. At the level of interpersonal relationships and peer-to-peer conduct (including physical confrontations), I think Jesus' and Paul's teachings on this matter are crystal clear. We should - we MUST - turn the other cheek.

Now, this leaves open the pertinent question raised by other posters as to whether it is possible to 'love one's enemies' and still support the role of police and military forces within a society.

This is a difficult question for me personally, as in my chosen profession I work for a subcontractor responsible for the development of military technology.

I've devoted significant thought to this issue, and over the years I've met a few Christians who have argued that I am in error in this matter, and I respect their opinions deeply.

However, I do think that it is ultimately possible for a nation to uphold the greater good of the 'rule of law', through force if necessary, provided that a number of rules of conduct are strictly adhered to. Remember, when talking to the Roman centurion, Christ didn't criticize the role of 'soldier' itself, though doubtless he would have strongly critized the brutal methods by which the Romans meted out their version of 'justice'.

So, here are the rules that I propose:

1. A specific application of force may only be employed in the situation where a guilty party must be subdued to prevent them from inflicting a greater degree of suffering upon an innocent party.

2. The specific application of force must be as a last resort, with all non-violent options exhausted.

3. The weapons used in the specific application of force must be discriminatory in their application.

4. The degree of force employed must be proportional to the threat of injury caused by the situation.

5. The person applying the force must have legitimate authority and be sanctioned by the laws of their society.

6. Finally, the specific application of force should be considered a temporary situation, whereby our normal moral values (eg. harming another human being) are temporarily suspended such that our core values (eg. preservation of life) may be upheld.

From these rules it follows (to me) that it should NOT be the role of private citizens to own lethal weapons for the purpose of defending themselves or others. However it SHOULD be permissible for members of a police force, operating under these strict laws, and monitored by their society, to do so.

If a Christian decided to be a police officer or a soldier, it would be morally permissible for him to do so. His perogative would be to 'turn the other cheek' in all situations UNLESS the above rules were ALL satisfied, in which case he could response with a temporary, measured, specific application of force to resolve the situation.

Needless to say, at the present time, in the U.S., I do not believe that these rules are being followed anywhere near closely enough.

Finally, regarding gun control, I firmly believe that the proliferation of lethal weapons within the U.S. has reached breaking point, and it is time for serious thought to be given to a sane, practical re-interpretation of the second amendment.

Given the constitutional emphasis on maintaining a 'well regulated militia', perhaps firearms ownership should be tied to service in an organization such as the National Guard or Naval Reserve. Furthermore, comprehensive and periodic background checks (eg. by the FBI), and a mandatory three-month waiting period for acquisition of new firearms should be enforced.

I think these measures could be employed without violating the raison d'etre of the second amendment.

It's a tough topic, but one worth thinking through.


Ben Witherington said...

Several things can be added: 1) James I like most of the sensible rules that you propose; 2) David, NT ethics IS part of my field, and that includes the ethics of the use of force, so please lets not suggest I am talking about a subject that the NT has no bearing on; 3) it is the task of every Christian to offer Christ and eternal life to everyone, including our enemies. Too many Christians do not understand that it is entirely inconsistent with this aim to offer them death first, at the physical level. The assumption behind offering them everlasting life, is that you have offered them a chance to continue to live and so respond to the offer of Christ. 4) Timberwolf, I have to say the issue of consistency is important. You need to be able to tell the difference between figurative and literal teachings of Jesus, which means you need to understand the basic rules of interpretation, including how to recognize the difference between a sapiential saying ("it is hard for a camel to pass through a needle...") an an apodictic commandment ("thou shalt not kill"). Figurative things must be interpreted figuratively, and literal things must be interpreted literally. It is not only not inconsistent to do so, this is exactly how you were supposed to differentiate and interpret such things. When Jesus says "no oaths" he means "NO OATHS", and the same applies to killing. 5) almost all societies have been religiously pluralistic ones since the beginning of human history. It is not a problem for Christians to be a counter cultural group within a society and allow others to live by their own credo which can include serving in the military etc. We are not less citizens for doing so, rather we are witnesses for a different approach to life and death, if you will we are the loyal second opinion on such matters. And what exactly is America if it is not a place where we can respect a variety of opinions of people of good will, and not question their dignity nor their patriotism for disagreeing with us about firearms? If that is not the America we now live in, then we are badly adrift from what our foundational documents suggested we ought to be like.



Anonymous said...

Dr. Witherington, God bless you, and thank you for your faithful witness. With Richard Hays, I would argue that this is one of the fundamental areas in which Christian discipleship in the U.S. is lacking.
I don't know what the best laws about gun control are, although the 2nd amendment seems pretty stupid to me in today's context (I'm up for a revision!)... but regardless of the politics of the issue, the Christian imperative of nonviolence is one that must be addressed. I'm disturbed to see so much consequentialist reasoning in these comments. As Christians we aren't called to 'fix' the world (as if we knew how to do that) or do guarantee 'good' outcomes. Rather, we are called to be faithful. And sometimes being faithful means taking a bullet for someone else. Sometimes it means being crucified for someone else, and sometimes it means taking your entire family to be fed to lions... Costly, yes. But there's no other way to live in the light of Christ's cross.

John R. said...

I find your philosophy very disturbing.

There would have been nothing wrong with someone taking out a gun and shooting Cho down.

It would not have been a matter of revenge. It would have been a matter of protection.

Your pacifism is a danger to us all, and I find nothing in the Bible that calls for it.

If Cho had been found, arrested, and put into the legal system--then yes--it would have been wrong for someone to take the law into their hands and try to exact revenge.

But protecting 32 young people from imminent danger would have been heroic--not a transgression. None of them were being "persecuted." This was a crime of monumental proportions--a crime that our government wants to prevent, but is unable to.

I appreciate much of your work, but this post is a real disappointment.

I contend it would have been morally right and necessary for someone to kill Cho as soon as he started his rampage.

John R.

Anonymous said...

I contend it would have been morally right and justified for Jesus to call down legions of angels and blow away his Roman crucifiers.
However, he did not (and to say that this was only because he knew he had to be an 'atoning sacrifice' is to ignore the sermon on the mount). And we are his disciples.
My two cents.

John R. said...


Yes, Jesus could have called down the angels. But His life's purpose was to atone for sin.

This was not the life's purpose of the 32 murdered.

I'm not saying that every Christian should fight all the time, but your philosophy undermines the ability to stand for what's right in the face of evil.

You are too extreme--and I say this with a heart-felt concern.

This is muddled thinking.

John R.

ChrisB said...

Given the length of your post, I'm just going to have to make a few comments here and there.

"Where is the moral outrage about the ability of even mentally whacked out people to buy guns in this country?"
All over the place.

"You might find this passing strange since over 80% of all Americans in recent polls have been all in favor of more gun control in this country."
The are lies, damn lies .... What examination of the mountains of polls out there tends to show is that Americans are in favor of certain, reasonable (in their opinion) restrictions. "More gun control" is exactly what you see in some poll reports, but it tells you nothing (except what you want to hear).

"it is just common believe that law enforcement should be left in the hands of the trained professionals..."
The police will tell you, their job is not to protect you. Their job is to take the report after the crime.

"I am frankly incredulous that we simply ignore the repeated pleas and cries of the police for tougher gun control laws..."
Police departments (ie, politicians such as chiefs are) want tougher gun laws. Beat cops know that good people with guns make their lives better. And though police chiefs always say concealed carry laws will cause blood to run in the streets, they all seem to correlate with lower crime in those states that pass the laws.

"there are whole categories of weapons than cannot be called weapons of self-protection but rather are weapons of war, ... For example, I am referring to automatic weapons such as machine guns, AK 47s, or the sort of weapons Mr. Cho was able to buy."
This is really disturbing, Ben. You seem to be implying that Cho used these eeevil assault weapons to kill those students. He used two semiautomatic pistols, a 9mm and .22 caliber -- two of the weakest weapons on the market. I expect such rhetoric from politicians but not you.

You mention Canada with their liberal gun laws and low crime rates. How about Great Britain and Australia with their recently strengthened gun laws and the simultaneous rise in violent crimes?

"Christians believe they have the gift of eternal life. They do not need to be protecting their own lives at all costs."
While I'm in no hurry, I don't really mind dying. However, I'd like my kids and friends and neighbors to live, especially those who aren't Christians. While they're alive, there's hope; once they're dead, the decision's made.

Which reminds me of a story. Some years back, a crazed gunman drove into (yes, into) a restaurant here in Texas and started shooting folks. One lady there watched her parents die because she couldn't carry her gun into the restaurant legally, and she is why Texans can now do that very thing. A few months later a similar event happened in Alabama with one difference: a patron was armed and asked the man with the guns to sit and wait quietly for the police to arrive; he did so with no loss of life.

Guns can kill; they can also save lives. And if I'm around when someone's trying to kill you, I'm not likely to just stand there and watch.

ChrisB said...

One other thought. How many of Jeffrey Dahmer's victims were shot?

Denny Burk said...

You wrote: "Where is the moral outrage about the ability of even mentally whacked out people to buy guns in this country?"

Response: There were already laws in place that outlaw Cho's having a gun.

1. Federal law prohibits firearm purchases by those who have been "adjudicated mentally defective" or "committed to a mental health institution."

2. It is against the law for anyone to have firearms on the Virginia Tech campus.

I don't think that is was for lack of gun-control laws that Cho was able to perpetrate this crime.

David Wilson said...

"If the thief is found breaking in, and he is struck so that he dies, there shall be no guilt for his bloodshed. If the sun has risen on him, there shall be guilt for his bloodshed. He should make full restitution; if he has nothing, then he shall be sold for his theft" (Exodus 22: 2-3)

Thomas Aquinas: "Without doubt one is allowed to resist against the unjust aggressor to one's life, one's goods or one's physical integrity; sometimes, even 'til the aggressor's death... In fact, this act is aimed at preserving one's life or one's goods and to make the aggressor powerless. Thus, it is a good act, which is the right of the victim." There are three conditions under which legitimate self-defense must lie: "That he who is the target of the force is an aggressor and an unjust aggressor... That the object of the defense is an important good, such as the life, physical integrity or worthy goods... [and] That defensive violence is proportionate to aggression." Under these conditions, "One is also allowed (not required) to kill other people's unjust aggressor."

Ben, please don't get the wrong idea. I have immense respect for you as a biblical scholar, and as a fellow follower of Jesus. I'm also an admirer of people like the late Clarence Jordan, a fellow Georgian, who helped me broaden my evangelican horizons when I was a teen. And obviously I'm aware of your work in NT ethics.

I think your post was written with more anguish than astute insight. It's passionate, and says a lot about where your heart is - in Christ and with the defenseless.

But so is mine. And your POV in this matter is out of step with Scripture and a long line of people who have served Christ and the church throughout the centuries.

Amazingly, I held NRA and ACLU membership at the same time. Just as I hold this issue in balance with only as much force as necessary to protect the innocent.

With warmest personal regards,


thegreatswalmi said...

"But so is mine. And your POV in this matter is out of step with Scripture and a long line of people who have served Christ and the church throughout the centuries."

that may be so, at least parts of scripture, and at least some people.

similarly, one may say the same about your point of view.

blessings and peace,

Anonymous said...

I find it ironic that your biblical support for the use of violence comes from the Old Testament. All the more ironic since you claim that Dr. Witherington's "POV in this matter is out of step with Scripture"... Perhaps you think the very words of Jesus are irrelevant to the question of whether or not his disciples should pick up the sword?
This is a hot topic to be sure, and I think everyone who has commented here so far has only the best of intents. Defending the weak and powerless is a noble cause to be sure--and Christian pacifists are the first to assert this. However, we believe lethal violence is incompatible with Jesus' teachings, as well as his example on the cross (which we are called to imitate).
This view may certainly be 'extreme', but as Dr. Witherington has argued (in agreement with Yoder, and more recently, with Dr. Hays) it is anything but 'muddled' or 'confused'.
My two cents.

Bob Hunter said...

As a Canadian living in the U.S. I've never understood the American love affair with guns, but you give a good explanation. While I normally agree with most of what you post I'm not going to stand by and let, for example, my wife get murdered while I look around for a non-lethal means of stopping the murderer if I have a lethal means available.

David Wilson said...

Daniel, I don't mean his biblical arguments are confused, but Ben knows next to nothing apparently about guns, the efficacy of the NRA as an organization, or the reality of gun laws and their ability to influence social change. That's muddled, confused, whatever label you wish to apply.

I'd ask all who only quote Jesus' words, "why not the OT?" It's the foundation for the work of Messiah, the law Jesus came to fulfill, and as I've studied and preached now through Gen, Ex, Lev, and now Numbers, the interconnectivness and coherence is amazing. Funny how the early church fathers, Augustne, Aquinus, the Reformers etc. could see that and apply the principles without the extreme pacifism we see on display here.

Again, only as much force as necessary to protect the innocent.

Anonymous said...

this may seem simplistic in light of the great discussion...I have a hard time seeing Christ defending himself or otherwise using ANY weapon...this is certainly a hard standard, and does not make sense in our world, but then again the Kingdom looks a whole lot different than this world...graceandpeace...jeff

FrankDG said...

Let's make this concrete. If you been in Norris Hall with a firearm could you have shot Cho? If someone were about to murder your wife or child and you were there with a firearm would you put the gun down? Would you use force (deadly if necessary) to stop a kidnapping?

I would.

Vengeance is a completely different issue than protecting others.

CJ said...

I think this is the most difficult issue to come to grips with for many Christians, myself included.

Ultimately, I come down on the side of no violence except self-defense or defense of others. However, I'm not sure if it's pragmatism or consistent application of Christian ethics that motivates me. I do know that I would kill if I thought it was the only way to save my wife and son. I'm not sure if I would even feel the need to repent about it. As to why He didn't call the legion of angels, He said Himself that it was for the fulfillment of scripture.

There are a few things that haven't been said about the "two swords" passage that I'd like to discuss. First, if Ben's interpretation is correct (and I think it is) Jesus was not telling them to shut up because swords were bad, but because they'd be ineffective against the best infantry the world has ever known. So, this doesn't tell us much about His view of the ETHICS of violent self defense, just the EFFICACY in that specific situation. My second question would be if Jesus were strictly anti-violence, what were they doing with swords in the first place? He had already sent them out without wallets and staffs, if He wanted them unarmed, it seems unlikely He would've let that go without comment.

Dan Roth said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Todd said...

If you love your neighbor, you will protect him or her from unjustified harm. If it was in your power to kill cho, and you didn't do it, you would not be loving your neighbor.


Dan Roth said...

Thank you for an excellent and timely post.

Perhaps a side-note, when I read that Jesus was "numbered with the transgressors", I've always interpreted the fulfillment as Him being crucified between two thieves - not instructing His disciples to transgress by "bearing arms".

Grumpy Old Man said...

Unless one takes a strict pacifist approach, including rejecting self defense and defense of others, the notion of gun control seems to me absurd.

One armed ex-Marine might well have prevented many of the murders at VTech. The police are a bureaucracy, and even at their best can't be everywhere.

I commend you, however, for taking the issue of violence and its morality or lack thereof, seriously. The Christian Roman Empire had armies, but a soldier who killed was denied communion for a considerable time . . .

Jim Pemberton said...

Good considerations by all. It illustrates well the paradox of moral application in a fallen world. many of these considerations are narrowly observed from a relatively safe 21st century western culture. Most of the world doesn't have the luxury of quickly-responding police. I would even venture that despite examples of corruption in our society, it isn't near the level of corruption found in many other areas of the world.

Additionally, our capacity to evaluate scripture is affected to some degree by the intellectual tools limited to and afforded by the philosophical debates and cultural normalization of the day.

With this in mind, the scripture offers mandates no direct application. It does give us absolute principles that we may apply.

We know that we should avoid killing if at all possible. We should live peaceably if at all possible. We should bear our witness of Christ where possible.

Unfortunately, we don't have an account other than the crucifixion where Christ was attacked. We also don't have an account where Christ was near someone who was attacked. (Except at Gethsemane. I suggest we all learn miracle healing. Better yet, we should all learn how to resurrect people who get killed by someone else.) The point is, we can't necessarily do precisely as Christ did. I suppose that's why he didn't always demonstrate, but we do have His teachings.

I was a US Marine before I was married and well trained in the use of deadly force. I thank God I never had to watch myself kill another person. It is possible to defend with deadly force with no malice or hatred. Additionally, because of this training there is a point at which an attack on myself or a third party will cause me to act defensively beyond my direct volition.

In those days I cared little for my own life. Now that I am married and have small children, I am the means of their well being and an attack on me represents an attack on my children.

To further confuse the issue, the reason for the 2d amendment is because of the understanding that fallen people constitute governments and it was felt by our founders the need for people to defend themselves against tyranny. At the time, the tyranny was England, but the founders understood enough about the potential for corruption among ourselves for us to maintain the capacity to fend off tyranny in our own government. After all, they built into our constitution checks and balances between the separation of powers.

Arguably, we as Christians should be concerned for the hearts of men rather than by the laws that ostensibly govern our civil behavior. As such, we understand the the Law against murder didn't stop Cho any more than the law banning guns from the campus. What we miss is that we should have been concerned primarily for the inclinations of his heart as we should be with the hearts of us who remain.

To this end, I am sending my wife and children to minister the gospel to the fatherless in a 3d world country for the summer. I will join them in the late summer and bring them home. They may come to be in harms way where I cannot protect them. However, in this I have concerned myself with their hearts as they learn to minister and we feebly attempt to serve our Lord. We can do nothing else as we consider at a moment's notice whether to defend the weak from murderous souls or offer them up as sacrificial martyrs through inaction.

Anonymous said...

Todd's point is excellent. Extreme pacifism of the Witherington (/Yoder /Wink /Hauerwas /Boyd /Hays /Mennonite/ all-the-early-Church) variety will likely result in the deaths of the innocent.
Either we compromise and allow for the use of violence as a 'last resort', or we bite the bullet and stay faithful in spite of the (possible) outcome (could it be that such "extremism" is the best response to violent jihadist extremism?).
Todd, it sounds like your question is really 'how do I adjudicate between loving my neighbor, and loving my other neighbor--who happens to be bent on killing my first neighbor?' Your solution seems to be (correct me if I'm wrong), 'kill one of your neighbors'. But if loving our enemies is somehow consistent with killing them, I'm not sure Jesus' Kingdom is all that radical. The key question, of course, is what love looks like in such dire circumstances...
My two cents.

Tortfeasor said...

"Arguably, we as Christians should be concerned for the hearts of men rather than by the laws that ostensibly govern our civil behavior. As such, we understand the the Law against murder didn't stop Cho any more than the law banning guns from the campus. What we miss is that we should have been concerned primarily for the inclinations of his heart as we should be with the hearts of us who remain."

Very well said.

Todd said...

Hi Daniel

One of the things we are to do is make a "right judgement." In this circumstance it is an objective good to help the powerless, to prevent injustice, and to save the innocent. Hence it would be good to justifiably kill my neighbor (Cho).

By risking my life, to shoot and kill Cho, inorder to save other lives, I wouldn't be compromising my faith I would be fulfilling it. The natural thing to do would be to run away (or not get involved) and try to save my own life. That would be a compromise of my faith.

As Cho stands before God and justly pays for his sins, I bet that he wishes that someone would have killed him after his first murder, so that he wouldn't have to pay for the 30 others.


Eric said...

This has been a fascinating discussion...

One of the issues that has hit me since this shooting is listening to NPR share news reports from other countries (and has been validated by some of the comments left here by our friends from other countries) and hearing their perspective of the United States as a "gun-obsessed" country. This amazed me, since I live in the Midwest and have never owned a gun, rarely think about guns, and don't feel particularly touched by guns at all (except to hear about the latest shooting going on in the country). It never occurred to me that the world would view the US as being gun-obsessed.

Personally, I think it is ludicrous when we begin talking about legislating morality, because it does not get at the heart of the issue. Nathan's comment gets closest to where I think Christ's real concern would have been -- how did a young man like Cho become so wounded in his heart that he could mercilessly kill innocents? The argument shouldn't be, in my POV, about whether gun laws should be increased or lessened, but about what we are going to do as a society to curb the violence that grows in a young man's heart. It may be cliche, but the gun didn't kill those people, the person did.

It all becomes hypothetical for most of us to discuss whether we would let someone shoot our children or not...I'm probably going to react in some manner and not think creatively or, I'm going to trust in the grace of God to forgive whatever pathetic course of action I take regardless.

What must Cho's family be going through? What about those classmates from college, high school, middle school, elementary school who have to face whether something they said or did was the beginning of the downfall of this person. Cho was not born to be a killer...he became a killer because of the experiences and the issues in his life. This is not to say that he may not have had some true medical & mental issues, but even then, those issues became exasperated by his life experiences. I believe Christ calls us all to question on how we have treated and wounded each other.

Christ would say, as he did, that "Thou shall not murder" has a lot more to do than whether you point a gun at someone and shoot them dead. It is a matter of our heart towards people and whether we strive to bring life to others, or kill them through our judgments, actions, and words.


Dan Roth said...

Two characters (not completely comparable) have come to mind, someone feel free to tell me I'm off my theological rocker:

King David was involved in many battles, and killed many people in defense of the people of Israel - even in the "offensive" of proactively establishing God's ordained boundaries for the land He'd promised the descendants of Abraham. These were killings, but not murders (arbitrary, selfish killings).

BUT, when he arranged for the death of Uriah to selfishly hide his indiscretion with Bathsheba, then and only then was he called to account by God through Nathan for the sin of murder.

Admittedly the paradigm of the earthly kingdom of Israel has shifted to the spiritual paradigm of the spiritual Kingdom of Heaven in Christians, as Jesus taught. But those of us in the New Covenant can't immediately and conveniently dispense with all of the principles (or examples) given in the Old Covenant of the OT - where the NT affirms "everything was written to instruct us".

A second, more modern example, Abraham Lincoln was (as far as we can tell from his speech and character) a devout Christian. Yet his refusal to allow the union to be dissolved for the sake of some maintaining the evil of slavery led to the Civil War, where hundreds of thousands perished. Did he sin by instructing the military to conduct such exercises?

I think it's disingenuous to suppose that he somehow "separated" his civil duty from his spiritual duty as a Christian - He couldn't, any more than we as Christians could or should. He was acting on what he felt was right from both a political, social, and spiritual sense, and history has rightly judged him virtuous for that.

These examples don't necessarily relate directly to the tragedy at Tech, but they perhaps suggest that it's a bit more complex than "all killing is always and equally wrong".

Dan R.

Joel Gorveatte said...

I wonder if the world perceives us as a "gun obsessed" culture because of the media and entertainment industry's obsession with guns.

Granted, we're the ones who pay the money to watch the movies and support the TV shows that portray the violence.

But any American knows that the extremes of the silver screen are a gross exageration over what 99.5% of us come into contact with in our daily lives.

We know that...but in many countries, those movies are what shape their stereotype of modern American culture (violence, sex, graphic material, etc.)

Journeyman said...

On the 15th April 1989, 93 Liverpool football supporters were crushed to death at Hillsborough football stadium. “After a public inquiry, new safety measures were introduced at football grounds around Britain.” In short, as football supporters we all had to give up standing at football grounds (which we all love to do) to make them a safer environment for everyone.

The US Department of Justice, Bureau of Statistics, states that in 2005:
• 477,040 victims of violent crimes stated that they faced an offender with a firearm.
• Incidents involving a firearm represented 9% of the 4.7 million violent crimes of rape and sexual assault, robbery, and aggravated and simple assault in 2005 = 423,000.
• The FBI's Crime in the United States estimated that 66% of the 16,137 murders in 2004 were committed with firearms = 10,650.

In addition to that, the University of Michigan Health System states that
• The 3,385 firearms-related deaths for age group 0-19 years breaks down to:

* 214 unintentional
* 1,078 suicides
* 1,990 homicides
* 83 for which the intent could not be determined
* 20 due to legal intervention

# Of the total firearms-related deaths:

* 73 were of children under five years old
* 416 were children 5-14 years old
* 2,896 were 15-19 years old

The ideal cure… that people’s hearts are changed, that’s the ultimate cure isn’t it? Then we wouldn’t want to hurt anyone. But as Adam and Eve stuffed that up don’t we have a duty to try to protect one another from falling into sin, taking stumbling blocks out of the way.

As far as I can tell this has nothing to do with the right to defend ourselves, or if the Constitution gives us the right to carry weapons, or which weapons this applies to or not… Instead it’s more about being prepared to give something up that we love for the benefit of others.

(P.S. I worked some of totals of the percentages out on my own, you may want to check these for yourself)

Ben Witherington said...

Fantastic discussion. One of the things I noticed in some of the later posts is the failure to recognize the fact that on the spot, no one would have known Cho was going to kill someone unless he was brandishing his weapon outside of the dorms or classroom buildings. Otherwise he would simply look like another student rushing to class. Hindsight is wonderful, but unless you were in the classroom or in the dorm with a gun, you had no opportunity to intervene with deadly force. On the news tonight, two things were stated: 1) Virginia has the best system in the U.S. in terms of checking for mental illness before selling a gun, BUT, if he was not involuntarily hospitalized he would not have been reported to the registry at all, certainly not by a counselor due to the privacy covenants. In short, even the strictest state law we've got does not presently cope with a case like Cho. He did not illegally buy his weapon even in Virginia! The second interesting point made on the evening news was this--- over half the states in the U.S. do not even report to the Federal Registry data base about their mentally ill, which is the data base linked to gun sales. Why? Because it is purely voluntary, they are not required to do it by law.

The issue of gun control is of course a volatile issue, as is self-defense in general or defense of one's family, and genuine Christians can of course and do differ on this issue. For me however it is very difficult to get away from the example of Jesus himself-- listen once more to excerpts from Isaiah 53 which the NT writers thought applied to Jesus' situation.

"He was despised and rejected by others, a man of suffering and familiar with pain....surely he took up our pain, and bore our suffering...He was oppressed and afflicted yet he did not open his mouth, he was led like a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before its shearers is silent, he did not open his mouth.... He was assigned a grave with the wicked and with the rich in his death, though he had done no violence, nor was any deceit in his mouth."


Tristan Guthrie said...

You suggested that "King David was involved in many battles, and killed many people in defense of the people of Israel...BUT, when he arranged for the death of Uriah to selfishly hide his indiscretion with Bathsheba, then and only then was he called to account by God through Nathan for the sin of murder."

Whereas David was called to account for the murder of Uriah, I'm not sure that this was the ONLY time. Read the words of the Lord spoken to David as to why he couldn't build a temple for the Lord, "You have shed much blood and have fought many wars. You are not to build a house for my Name, because you have shed much blood on the earth in my sight." 1Chronicles 22:8

In light of this passage, it seems David (oddly enough) could be used as an example for pacifism. Even though God used him for the purpose of ridding the land of heathen people, his wars and shedding of blood were seen as a blight on his record large enough to cause God to hold off on the building of the temple until "a man of peace and rest" (Solomon) could do the job.

Even in the case of the great warrior-king David, the killing does not seem to be the ideal, instead it is "a man of peace" whom God ulitmately allows to build His house. There may be other, more suitable examples you could use, but David doesn't seem to work in your favor. Hope this helps.

Larry Chouinard said...

It's always dangerous to base your ethics upon hypothetical situations. Every ethical stance can imagine a situation that would make your commitment inconsistent or difficult at best. Suppose you could save someone else by sleeping with an intruder, would you? In this scenario what would "loving my neighbor" mean? For the disciple, ethics is grounded in and modeled in Jesus, and not by the difficulty of the situation. Perhaps we could learn something from the "peace churches" who have been teaching their people how to respond to violence for a long time. Maybe there are creative responses to the hypothetical situations some of you raised, without imitating the violence of the perpetrator. But for me the issue has always been a matter of faithfulness not does it always work.

Dan Roth said...

Hi Tristan, thanks for your insight. I had in fact thought of that very passage even as I was typing my comments, so your point is well-taken. However, I still thought (and think) the example works.

God does say that David is not suitable to build the temple due to his bloodshed. However, I think it's a bit of a theological stretch to extrapolate that God was saying it was sinful (disobedient) to do what David did. Perhaps it indicates merely that because of his legacy, he was not called to serve in that specific capacity (temple-building).

Should we not consider that God Himself directed David's stone to bring down Goliath? God could have just as easily told David to stop killing at any point, but only *directly* rebuked him for his sin against Uriah (and the later census, but that's another point).

By analogy, Lincoln himself (my other example) also expressed great anguish at the deaths incurred in the Civil War, and quite understandably. We might for comparable reasons think him unsuitable for a "Peace Memorial", for his was certainly not a legacy of peace. But perhaps it was a legacy of "just war", and the Lincoln Memorial is a just tribute.

Dan R.

Todd said...

Hi Dr. Witherington

I appreciate your blog, and the fact that you respond to the comments, but I don't see how Isaiah 53 calls for pacifism.

It is dealing with Jesus voluntarily going to the cross for our sins (an action to save lives and do good). Not Jesus sitting by passively while another is being harmed (inaction that doesn't save lives and does no good).

Are we not to "open our mouth" in the cause of injustice? Yet here Jesus does not open his mouth.


Timberwolf said...

This discussion has really gone on, hasn't it? These are my last words on this subject.

Dr. Witherington says that the commands of Jesus which are apodictic are to be taken literally. Alright then. Jesus command "Do not resist an evildoer" would seem then to forbid even the passive creative forms of resistance Dr. Witherington himself suggests {eg throwing hot water, blocking the door, etc} Resistance is resistance, whether passive or active, and should be taken as sinful if we read this apodictic command literally.

Here are some other commands of Jesus, and I wonder how many here {especially among the pacifists} take these with such literalness:

1."Give to everyone who asks you for something, and when someone takes what is yours, do not ask for it back."
Have many of you give to every phone soliciter and beggar you encounter? And have you ever sought to recover stolen property?

2. "Do not store up treasure for yourself on earth..." How many of you have bank accounts, IRAs, home equity, stocks, bonds, etc?

3. "Sell your posessions and give alms." Luke 12:33 {This saying in Luke is not directed at one individual rich man.} I am willing to wager most here own posessions of some sort. How many of you really live the Gandhi life?

Stuart Smith

Bar L. said...

I agree with David Wilson.

Also, guns are not entirely used as for self defense or violence. Shooting has been an Olympic sport since 1896. I own guns because its a family tradition passed down for generations as a sport. I don't want that rigt taken away.

BUT YES! I am 100% for tighter gun CONTROL laws. I know how easy it is to purchase a gun, I've done it many times. It's ridiculous. There are strict laws in my state but not strict enough.

I am just tired of people equating guns and violence. Sadly even if there were no guns available, someone like Cho would have found another way - like maybe strap a bomb to himself which would have probably killed even more people.

There are sick people out there that are going to do horrible things with or without guns.

Murf said...

My own two cents:
1. Protecting oneself or others is in no way "vengeance."
2. There are 200 million firearms out there in America now. So-called "gun control" is mere wishful thinking, that train already left the station.
3. If we are concerned about life why don't we pour our efforts into preventing abortion which takes a 9/11's worth of life (3000!)every working day!

John R. said...

Joel said: I wonder if the world perceives us as a "gun obsessed" culture because of the media and entertainment industry's obsession with guns.

Granted, we're the ones who pay the money to watch the movies and support the TV shows that portray the violence.

But any American knows that the extremes of the silver screen are a gross exageration over what 99.5% of us come into contact with in our daily lives.

We know that...but in many countries, those movies are what shape their stereotype of modern American culture (violence, sex, graphic material, etc.)

I agree. The "Wild West" accusations speak more of media exaggeration and current "spin" than a complete view of history.

Talk of America's "obsession" with guns makes me think some are too involved in reading certain web-sites.

What about America's "obsession" with drugs--which I contend is the source of much violence in the country. The problem lies in many areas--rather than the mere presence of guns.

Freedom is a good thing.
The abuse of it is terrible.

Should we throw it away?

It is hard to be a free and corrupt people at the same time.

Weekend Fisher said...

On gun control, I have little to say: I favor more controls than we have now but not a banning. The reason I comment is that the exegesis bothers me.

Dr. W.: Are you seriously suggesting that the reason Jesus told his disciples to bring swords is so he (Jesus) could be numbered among the transgressors? That Jesus wanted his disciples to be transgressors of his commandments? If so, wasn't that effect negated when he told them to bring swords?

If you compare Luke's passage to that of Mark (15:28), we can see that being "numbered among the transgressors" refers to Christ's being arrested (and later crucified amongst criminals), not to the disciples being the transgressors for doing what Christ told them.

This isn't the first blog where I've seen that "two swords against a Roman legion" line, but none of the four gospel accounts of Jesus' arrest places Romans at Gethsemane. So while the "two swords against a Roman legion" line is good for getting a laugh at your opponents, it's not accurate to the events that night; not one of the accounts places any Romans at the scene. They are consistently identified as being from the priests or (by name) the Temple guard. There are also indications from some of the gospels that Christ's own disciples may have been in danger of arrest too. One of them was being forcibly held and, in his panic, even ditched his clothes to escape the risk of being taken himself.

If you compare all the accounts of what happened the night of the Last Supper, you can see that Christ told them to bring swords that night but forbade them to attack on his behalf. The idea that Jesus was trying to turn them into transgressors so he could be numbered among transgressors is more than a stretch. First, the arrest as a criminal fulfills that; second, the disciples were plenty transgressors enough already and the incarnation itself would have him numbered amongst transgressors were meant in that sense; third, when Jesus told them to bring swords he also told them in the same breath to make sure they had some money with them -- if they intent of Jesus' command was to make them transgressors we'd have to look at the right to carry money not just arms. Or maybe the more obvious reading is correct: maybe Jesus just wanted to make sure they were provided for and taken care of.

It's the exegesis that bothers me, not the healthy discussion on gun control.

CEJ said...

I think Rahab is instructive in a round about way.

She lied, to save the spies, accomplishing God's purpose through an undoubtedly sinful act. She and her household were saved and she's held up as a "faith hero" despite this glaring sin not to mention her (oldest) profession!

I've heard of the concept of a heirarchy of morals in Scripture, that a lesser commandment can be broken to uphold a greater one. I'm not sure how biblical that is, but from Rahab's example and the one with David's advisor deceiving Absolom (with God's help in making Absolom gullible!), I can't rule it out either.

Man this stuff is hard! I'm glad that grace abounds!

Unknown said...


I see that while I was typing the following post, weekend fisher also contributed much fine material covering the same topic.

Concerning the scriptural support you cite for gun control, I agree with your citations about not acting in revenge. However, I have trouble with your discussion of the Luke 22:36-38 and Is 53:12 passages.

Your discussion of the passage in Luke is incomplete. You did not discuss verse 36, in which Jesus states "But now if you have a purse, take it, and also a bag; and if you don't have a sword, sell your cloak and buy one."

In order to be consistent with your perspective, it seems that we would have to conclude that Jesus was actually tempting his disciples to do what you believe is wrong by requesting that they purchase weapons if they personally did not yet own one. Apparently, the disciples took the bait as they produced two swords in verse 38. Further, when Jesus declares "That is enough" (of this nonsense), where the content in parantheses is your interpretation (which I am doubtful of), the disciples then seem to openly disobey the intentions of Jesus by bringing the swords to the garden.

I think it is far more plausible that Jesus was literally recommending that the disciples bring swords with them, not to engage in conflict with the crowd sent to arrest Him, but rather to show a deterrent to prevent any in the crowd from deciding to kill Jesus and the disciples in the garden. This is not to say that Jesus could not have used miraculous means to stop the crowd from harming Him or the disciples, but Jesus typically did not resort to the miraculous unless he wanted to teach a greater lesson. This theory is also consistent with the fact that Jesus said two swords would be enough. Two swords would obviously not be enough to provide a reasonable chance of victory over a crowd that included a detachment (note: not legion) of soldiers. However, it would be enough to at least show any undisciplined, non-soldier in the crowd that there would be a danger in attacking.

Finally, verse 37 says: "It is written: 'And he was numbered with the transgressors'; and I tell you that this must be fulfilled in me. Yes, what is written about me is reaching its fulfillment."

You interpreted this as referring to the disciples being transgressors apparently because they took the instructions given by Jesus in verse 36 literally. If this were the case, I would expect Jesus to have said "...I tell you that this must be fulfilled in us. Yes, what is written about us is reaching its fulfillment" since you interpret the two weapon-wielding disciples as the transgressors.

Also the question must be asked who counted Jesus "among the transgressors"? Obviously this refers to human perception and/or action. Yet we have no record that anyone believed at that time that carrying a weapon was sinful, and that Jesus was among men carrying weapons and therefore was counted among the transgressors. Remember, even the disciples did not understand this concept, so it seems unlikely that others outside the inner circle of Jesus could understand it. Your interpretation only leaves room for a retrospective understanding of being "counted among the transgressors" after this pacifist Christian theology had been more fully developed.

I think a much more coherent interpretation is that Luke 22:37 and Is 53:12 are referring to the conviction of Jesus as a criminal by the human authorities. Certainly if you are tried and convicted of a crime you have been judged to be a transgressor. It is fair to say that the common perception at the time would have been that Jesus was convicted as a criminal and therefore was "counted among the transgressors" in this sense.

Shaylin said...

The issue is not, I think, gun ownership or lack thereof. The issue is that we humans are, as a species, violent. Without changing the violent nature of a society, stricter gun laws accomplish little. People will still be willing to break the law to get firearms (there's no reason to suppose that if Cho had been unable to acquire his weapons legally that he wouldn't have then done so illegally). And violent people who don't break the law to get their weapons will simply resort to using sticks, rocks, knives, or bombs.

I am not, in principle, opposed to somewhat tighter gun controls. I am opposed to the total prohibition of private firearms, and I am not convinced that changing gun laws will accomplish much unless we first alter the society in which we live.

As for the constitution, I'm afraid I'll have to disagree with your interpretation of the 2nd Amendment. I do not believe the framers had only militiamen and their hunting rifles in mind. The broader context must be considered: 1)they were concerned with retaining the people's ability to throw off a tyrannical government if need be (as they had just done), and aware that a disarmed populace is less able to resist governmental tyranny. 2)People in those days - and I'd imagine this applies to every single one of the framers - owned small personal firearms intended for self-defense and (though it was illegal) sometimes dueling. The fact that they did not foresee semi-automatic pistols with 10-round magazines is actually rather irrelevant: they were concerned with preserving the right of individuals to own arms for both personal and national defense, which is how they would have used the arms they themselves owned.

As for Christians and pacifism, I would argue that this is a point where good Christians may legitimately differ. Personally, I am not a pacifist. I abhor violence, but do not believe that violence - even killing - is inherently sinful, depending on the circumstances. I will say that, linguistically, I don't believe that equating "kill" and "murder" is a valid exegetical move. Those words - in English, Greek, and Hebrew - are different, and they have different meanings, different scope. To simply say, "murder means all killing" is exegetically improper.

Alex said...


I'm not saying that Christians or anyone should use guns. But the fact that we have them is important in that it acts as a deterent to the government to remind it to be careful with its power.


Al Sandalow said...

very day, on average, 50 people are killed by drunk drivers. That's like 1.5 VT shootings each day.

Scientific America reports that alcohol causes 100,000 deaths a year. That's 273 each day.

So, why do the folks who cry for the elimination of firearms after a tragic loss of life like the VT shootings, never call for the elimination of alcohol for the same reason?

Anonymous said...

Al Sandalow asks a disarming but disturbing question when he brings up DUI related and alcohol related deaths. The fact is that the events such as the tragedy of VT happen infrequently enough that they become viable fodder for a voracious ideologically divided clture.

Gun control is a red herring for most forms of social engineering. The fact is that in a consistant society, 16,000 gun deaths per year would pale into insignificance when looked at in the light of 50-60,000 traffic fatalities and (gasp, dare I say it) the intentional killing of 1,000,000 infants in utero. Square those statistics with Yoderian pacifism.

Ben Witherington said...

Well folks this discussion has spread like kudzu in many directions, some of them fruitful.

Several more points can be made: 1) it is totally irrelevant to bring up unrelated issues like drunk driving. I quite agree we need better laws against drunk driving and severer penalties, but the merits of that issue have nothing to do with the merits of the gun control issue. Each ethical issue should be evaluated on its own merits. When is the last time you heard of a single auto accident killing 33 persons? Not very often I would wager. So lets not get distracted to other issues.

Secondly, in regard to Lk.22 look carefully at the context: 1) Jesus refers to the previous fact that Jesus had sent the disciples out before without purse, bag or sandals. Now the situation is different. Now the story of Jesus is about to come to a climax and fulfillment, including the prophecy, he was number with the transgressors which here in Luke is clearly linked with the disciples behavior and Jesus' directives. Who are the transgressors he is numbered with in the Garden of Gethsemane, which is the context here--- clearly it is his disciples who are seen as revolutionaries just like Jesus, and therefore dangerous. Jesus wants them to play their part in the drama, so indeed he WILL be seen as dangerous and be arrested. It is irrelevant that the disciples don't understand he is not suggesting they should protect him or themselves. He has already said they will run away, be scattered. And when they do try to use force to protect him, or oppose his captors he puts an instant stop to it; 3) as for the Roman 'speiran' sorry but John 18.3 is perfectly clear they were there and are distinguished from the temple officials. Take a look at the John commentaries on this verse; 4) as for Isaiah 53, this passage speaks of someone who believed in no response and no retailiation to the abuse done to him. In addition, it says "he did no violence". This is of relevance to the portrait of Jesus in the Passion narratives. 5) Jesus not only did no violence against his enemies and captors, when his own disciple did act this way, he healed the damage and put an immediate stop to Peter's actions.

You're simply not going to find a justification for using violence in the life or teachings of Jesus. And if you think hard about it-- there is a blatant inconsistency between loving your enemies and killing them, even if you are doing it to protect someone you love.

As I have said before-- there are many many ways to intervene and protect persons without resorting to violence, or at a minimum without resorting to trying to kill someone using deadly force.

One of the reasons for this discussion is to make us all think now, before we are in such situations what a Christian respond might be. No one is asking you to decide on the spot what you ought to do. Rather, you should think through the dilemmas in advance and plan ahead, act as best you can under the circumstances according to your principles and then leave the results in God's hands, because at the end of the day, we cannot control all the circumstances and possibilities in a dangerous situation. Only God can.



Michael Thompson said...

Thanks for another adventure in missing the point. So many points missed that I've filled my need for some time.

Tortfeasor said...

By the way, according to Rasmussen's poll taken immediately after the Va Tech tragedy, only 45% of Americans expressed the opinion that we need stricter gun control laws -- a far cry from the 80% asserted without citation in this post.

Tortfeasor said...

Here's the link:

Larry Chouinard said...

My point about sleeping with an intruder in order to save others was not to suggest that adherence to a legal code trumps any concern for the welfare of others. My point was that one can justify unethical behavior, and even call it "loving one's neighbor" when we look for excuses to ignore Jesus' clear teachings. I wish we would put the same amount of creative juices toward how we might respond to violence in a redemptive way that we put to imagining situations that appear to negate peaceful alternatives. Remember it's about providing an alternative witness to the knee jerk reactions of the world. Suppose you were put in a room and told you must figure out 10 nonviolent responses to a violent perpetrator, and the use of a gun can only come at number 11. As I said earlier, we might want to learn from those who take this teaching seriously, like the peace churches. So, enough with the notion that only a violent response truly cares for the lives of the innocent. The cross negates such nonsense.

Ben Witherington said...

John 18.36 said by Jesus to the governor of Judea: " My kingdom is not of this world. If it were, my servants would fight to prevent my arrest by the Jewish leaders. But my kingdom is from another place."

BlueSkyJedi said...

For my Pacifist Brethren,

Has it occurred to you that one of the few instances in which Jesus commended someone for their faith was a Roman Centurion? Jesus never made one mention of his role in the military, nor did he call him to revoke his place in the Legions. Also, Paul the Apostle made mention of Christians in the Praetorian Guard and never yet once denigrated them for their Military Service! Why? Could it be that Jesus and Paul saw no conflict of interest in living a life of faith and that of being an active participant in "bearing" the sword? Thousands upon thousands of my brethren in uniform have laid down their lives as Jesus would have them do while many stood by and did nothing idly by in the name of being peacemakers. Pacifism in Neville Chamberlain's case only encouraged Hitler in his evil actions. Because he knew there was no consequences for his actions. (Invading Poland) Unfortunately, killing evil people is necessary for the preservation of society. Because that is the ONLY way they can be stopped. Saying "Stop!" Does not deter anyone. Which is why no one stops for the UN.

Proverbs 24:10-12 declares:

10 If you falter in times of trouble how small is your strength!

11 Rescue those being led away to death; hold back those staggering toward slaughter.

12 If you say, "But we knew nothing about this," does not he who weighs the heart perceive it?
Does not he who guards your life know it? Will he not repay each person according to what he has done?

In this violent world SOMETIMES the only way you can be stronger than the "strong man" is through the the force of arms.

Violence is not the only way to settle things. Those of us who bear the sword hope we never have to exercise it but when the time comes we do not shrink from our duty. Unfortunately, as a political last resort it is not always used judicially. Nor are we perfect in applying it. However that should not prevent us from doing what we can when we can.

Even those of the Pacifist Quaker movement (for which I have a great respect) knew this to be true. A Quaker built our first three American Naval warships. The USS Constitution sits in Boston Harbor as a testament. Hundreds of Quakers joined the military to oppose Hitler in WWII. (Go to the Quaker meeting house cemetary in Olney, MD) Conscience demands you DO something to STOP evil not just delay it or be a passive victim. I have not read everything on the VT tragedy as the media frenzy over it borders on the pornographic BUT I was dismayed by no reports of people trying to actually trying to stop him physically either through tackling or hitting him with an object. Even if one are not armed there is something anyone can do to prevent more evil from being done. If you give your life in the process then you have done your utmost that God has asked you to do: Protect the weak and the helpless.

Grace, Peace and Blessings,
Shining the Light in the U.S. Armed Forces,

Vance Clark,United States Air Force

Unknown said...

Thanks for saying something. The church's silence on this issue is deafening.

José Solano said...

We are so attached to the passing world that faith in and obedience to Jesus Christ is extremely difficult. We recognize that we are sinners but find it hard to identify exactly where our sins are so we prefer very general confessions that lack specificity. We love our sins. We justify our sins as best we can. We’ll admit perhaps some minor sin or if we’re thorough hypocrites we’ll just lie and conceal our sins from everyone.

But Jesus Christ convicts us. He sees through us and exposes us to ourselves leaving us filled with shame and guilt. Thank God for this.

Jesus’ teaching about not killing is crystal clear and we cannot appeal to the Old Testament or to the protection of innocent lives to justify our killing. Not only did Jesus go like a lamb to slaughter but he sent his disciples out like sheep among wolves. How can we ignore that there is only one place where a disciple of Christ acts violently and he is immediately admonished by Jesus for doing this. Arguments from silence, regarding centurions, two swords (knives?), etc. cannot negate the clear and consistent teaching of peace that all the apostles and disciples practiced to their death.

Where are the early Christians anywhere found killing anyone? All we find are humble and thoroughly peaceful Christians living in a world as vile, vicious and violent as any that has ever existed. Nowhere is there any record of the earliest Christians killing anyone to defend their families while their families are slaughtered. Nowhere in the early church is there any record of anyone advising anyone to kill in self-defense. Never is there a word about revolution or rebelling against your masters.

We are the picture of perfect fools before the lovers of life and lovers of the world. But we know that everybody dies, even those with the heavy artillery. How we try to prolong our very fleeting lives a little longer at all cost, even at the cost of rejecting the teaching of our Lord, risking our eternal salvation and, by our untrusting and unbelieving example, the salvation of our loved ones, the very ones we seek to protect.

Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me a sinner. Help us to follow you and trust you more. You give life, you take it away and yours is the power to restore it. You are the Way, the Truth and the Life. Come Lord Jesus.

The Peace of God be with you.

KN said...

I'd like to throw out there that there is a difference between pacifism and passivism. The former demands actions, the latter apathy. Pacifism involves direct action, albeit nonviolently, whereas passivism itself means doing nothing. Dr. W, I'm not sure where you would place Jesus on that spectrum, as it almost seems that it might be more towards passivism. I would probably tend more towards the (active!) pacifist view.

Unknown said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Unknown said...


Once again, in Luke 22:36 Jesus says, ""But now if you have a purse, take it, and also a bag; and if you don't have a sword, sell your cloak and buy one."

In your original post you stated:

"Jesus is saying to the disciples—you must fulfill your role as transgressors of what I have taught you!!! They must play the part of those who do exactly the opposite of what Jesus taught them in the Sermon on the Mount. The disciples become transgressors by seeking out weapons and then seeking to use them."

However, your perspective is inconsistent with the Deity of Jesus. You imply that in Luke 22:36 Jesus is instructing His disciples to do what you believe is wrong in order to fulfill a prophecy. The Bible directly contradicts such an assertion in James 1:13, "When tempted, no one should say, 'God is tempting me.' For God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does he tempt anyone;"

In your latest post you state:
"...clearly it is his disciples who are seen as revolutionaries just like Jesus, and therefore dangerous. Jesus wants them to play their part in the drama, so indeed he WILL be seen as dangerous and be arrested."

Now, to further explain His request for swords, you suggest that Jesus wanted Himself and His disciples to be perceived as revolutionaries and dangerous.

The words of Jesus clearly contradict your view. For example, Mt. 26:55 says, "At that time Jesus said to the crowd, "Am I leading a rebellion, that you have come out with swords and clubs to capture me? Every day I sat in the temple courts teaching, and you did not arrest me."

So, if Jesus was indeed putting on the ruse of being a revolutionary in the garden, He suddenly contradicts that myth with His own words. Somehow, this seems consistent with your interpretation of the Luke 22:36-38 passage, in which Jesus tells the disciples to buy swords in verse 36 and then turns around and rebukes them for it in verse 38. In both cases, your interpretation has Jesus being consistently inconsistent! Also, I would say it makes Him out to be consistently deceitful (i.e., sinful) as well as a tempter, and therefore not God.

I believe these contradictions demonstrate that it is not possible to reconcile the Luke 22:36-38 passage without conceding that the defensive use of weapons (i.e., when lives are directly threatened) is not sinful. Peter's assault on the servant in the garden did not meet that criteria, which is why he was rebuked by Jesus.

Chip Burkitt said...

I think it's a real stretch to think that "numbered with the transgressors" applies to the disciples. Jesus, knowing that he was about to be arrested, told the disciples to be prepared: Take a purse so you can pay your expenses instead of depending on the hospitality of others, and take a sword so you can defend yourself because everyone is going to be out to get you for a while. He did not desire them to use swords in his defense but in their own. For that purpose two were enough because the arresting officers were only looking for Jesus, not his followers.

The larger issue of whether Christians ought to use deadly force under any circumstances is a matter of conscience. The fact that Jesus and the early Christians were never in a position where deadly force was called for tells us nothing. There's a big difference between resisting arrest (which Jesus and Paul had occasion to do but chose not to) and defending one's home and property (which neither Jesus nor Paul, so far as we know, had occasion to do).

For my part, I cannot say how I would have acted at VT. I only hope I would have acted from courage and conviction and not from cowardice.

José Solano said...

Luke 22:36-38 is a difficult passage and it has been interpreted in varied ways but it is a grasping at straws to imagine, in the light of everything Jesus and his earliest disciples say and do, that this is some sort of license to kill or to defend oneself.

In Lk. 22:49 the disciples directly ask Jesus, “Lord, shall we strike with the sword?” One of them strikes the servant of the high priest. Jesus appears to ask permission (“Permit even this.”) from the guards to allow him to heal the wounded servant (v. 51). In Matthew of course we have Jesus explicitly admonishing, “Put your sword in its place, for all who take the sword will perish by the sword.” The word “all” is all-inclusive and should not leave any straw to grasp on to for any justification of killing.

There are two things happening in these passages: For certain there is a condemnation of self-defense and any justification for using the sword to attack someone, and in addition there is the recognition that Jesus’ sacrifice and prophetic mission must not and cannot be impeded.

In the Apostles first “outing” to the “lost sheep of Israel” Jesus sends them practically empty handed as it is expected that at least some of the Jews will take care of their basic needs. His pre-passion advice is for them to be prepared for they are in for a much longer journey. A short sword (máchaira) would be essential for cutting food, skinning animals and many other survival functions that have nothing to do with killing people. When we go camping we often take large knives, axes, etc. but their purpose is not to kill anyone. Such a short sword (large knife) could certainly be misused to kill someone but clearly its use to defend against the heavily armed guards would be futile, even absurd. What we find in these passages is just Peter’s impetuous character coming through when he strikes the guard and he is rebuked by Jesus.

Sorry, but you cannot take your pistol, M16, uzzi sub machine gun or whatever to defend yourself, any “innocent” person or your nation, based on anything found in the New Testament teaching.

Michael Thompson said...

Hold on Ben, I change my mind! Let's get rid of the guns and violence - ALL guns and violence.

In fact, let's get down to the brass tacks: let's abolish all police and law enforcement since they so often utilize force when doing their jobs. After all, we cannot use violence because earth looks NOTHING like heaven (whole kingdom not of this world thingy, taken in your direction of interpretation). Take our guns and take ALL guns - yeah, I'm with you now. I'm sure it will work.

And while were at it, let us examine every aspect of our lives which do not look like heaven and which can be used in morally destructive ways. Like, say. . . .the internet! So many times it facilitates immorality and even those who are buying and selling guns, and perhaps even terrorists and governments. Since it is so evil, let's ban it. Then the trans-fatty foods, then the automobiles, then the . . . . . . .

And when we've stripped away everything else will our theology stop coming from the lap of luxury we've come to take for granted? That you sit behind your computer in a very rural and peaceful part of Kentucky while others walk through a literal hell-on-earth to place their lives on the line for your right to do so and then use the very freedom they've established for you to condemn the very life you own is quite disturbing.

I never place God above country, but I do not deny that this nation is a blessing to the world. And perhaps we will witness this blessing to mirror the other unwanted gifts from the creator - going away.

Jay said...


For those of who who've seen the movie "End of the Spear", what do you suppose the outcome would have been if the missionaries had started gunning down the Maori tribesman once they started attacking them?

If you were a missionary in a foreign country, would you carry a handgun or rifle with you?

Do you or do you not consider yourselves missionaries to your own towns and those you encounter in your daily life?

How effective do you think an armed missionary can be?

For those who think no good can come from not intervening in a massacre, I refer you to the not only that story, but to the stories that came out of Columbine. For us to assume to know God's will is arrogant. All we can do is obey what we know and trust Him with the rest. Sometimes His purposes include the death of the innocent and the survival of the evil, though it seems unjust from our perspective.

For some, our highest calling is to be killed professing their faith. Professing your faith can include something as simple as not returning violence for violence.

I'm a brand new dad, and I don't know what I would do if someone was attacking my wife and daughter. Instinctually I would want to inflict as much harm on the aggressor as possible, but in my heart I know that to be wrong. It is not for me to be judge, jury, and executioner, only to do all I can to try to stop the violence and seek out justice from those with the authority to judge.

In regards to the OT/NT debate, don't we see even David, who someone mentioned had shed too much blood to build the Temple, repeatedly forgiving his pursuers again and again, and lamenting thier deaths? Even punishing those who killed them unlawfully?

I do part ways with Ben when it comes to law enforcement and military matters. Christians serving lawfully in the protection of others is perfectly legitimate and should be encouraged. I see nowhere in the bible where lethal but lawful miltary or law enforcement actions are equated with murder, with the exception of unlawful actions by soldiers (read: some of David's soldiers' exploits).

I think law enforcement and the military are perfectly acceptable professions for a christian to participate in Kingdom building. Cops don't just go around killing people all day, they also intervene in domestic problems, and talk to the lowest of the low on a daily basis. We need these people to have Jesus in their lives.

Unknown said...


Whenever we interpret the Bible, it is important to be very mindful of context.

Peter's use of the sword was not in defense of anyone's life, it was a move to prevent the arrest of Jesus. As such, the fact that he was rebuked cannot necessarily be extended to the broader context where all use of the sword is forbidden.

Looking at the language of the rebuke "...for all who take the sword will perish by the sword", I think it is important to consider the meaning of the phrase "take the sword". If its meaning is truly applicable in all contexts, then this rebuke would apply to the "short swords" you mentioned as well as long swords. Here you are taking some liberty in your interpretation because you believe Jesus was referring to the context of swords used to kill people, rather than swords used for other purposes.

Also, consider the fact that if the rebuke of Jesus only applies to long swords, someone could bear a short sword for purposes of having the capacity of deadly force and have no burden to abide by this rebuke.

It is obvious that you actually interpret "take the sword" as meaning bearing a deadly weapon with the purpose of either offense or defense against other human beings.

The point of the above discussion is that your interpretation actually depends on a defined context rather than a universal one. Therefore, I do not believe you can fairly dismiss the argument that the proper context which Jesus intended for "take the sword" was the one that Peter had just demonstrated, i.e., the offensive use of a weapon (when lives are not endangered).

In support of the latter interpretation, I would point out that your interpretation is actually in conflict with another passage in the New Testament.

Romans 13
"3 For rulers hold no terror for those who do right, but for those who do wrong. Do you want to be free from fear of the one in authority? Then do what is right and he will commend you. 4 For he 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."

If "take the sword" was truly meant by Jesus to be universal in context, then members of any official police or military force fall under the rebuke of Jesus, regardless of how they use their weapons. Yet here it is clear that Paul says that God Himself appointed the government to "bear the sword". This is a contradiction.

Context is always a paramount consideration. If we throw out context, then even the use of mace or hot water (as Ben suggested) on a perpetrator who poses an imminent threat to life would be wrong. Jesus said in Mt. 7:12, "So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets.". Notice that Jesus said "in everything". If I were an adherent to consistent application of universal context, I would have to conclude that "in everything" means in every circumstance. Therefore, the conclusion would be that a Christian must take no action that makes anyone feel unpleasant, even in the face of danger. Clearly, this includes the use of mace or hot water. Again, members of law enforcement would also have to abide by this precept if your method of scriptural interpretation were indeed valid (and if we could discard the conflicting passage in Romans 13).

Unbelievers will always inhabit the world and will always be doing evil works. Your interpretation of the teachings of Jesus only permits a world of anarchistic chaos, rather than one governed with an imperfect approximation of law, justice, and peace, as Paul was talking about.

Pastor Astor said...

This is an interesting, but also scary read for a Swede. The points mr. Witherington is doing are not that spectacular outside of the states - it is the clear and obvious consequences of the gospel. Some thoughts:

1. Someone said that in a crisis situation they didn´t have time for making up creative non-leathal alternatives but would go for the gun: That us EXACTLY why you shouldn't have one!
2. It seems to me that some people mix their christianity and their nationalism - that is called syncretism.
3. Pascifists get called cowards or safety hazards a lot. It seems that gun loving people see two alternatives - shoot or run/hide. The pascifist way is neither - it is to meet the armed man eye to eye, unarmed.
4. We are dead to ourselves and alive to Christ. We are no longer citizens of our countries, but citizens of heaven. If this is true we live by Christ and by the law of the kingdom. If not, we have left king and country.

Anonymous said...

This is a lively thread! What good dialogue!
As far as Romans 13 is concerned, Richard Hays has convincingly argued that it should be interpreted in light of Romans 12 (imagine that!), particularly, verses 16 through 21. In Romans 12, Paul exhorts Christian disciples NOT to repay evil with evil, but to leave room for the wrath of God. Moving directly into Romans 13, we see that the government, which bears not the sword in vain, is seen as one of the instruments of God's wrath.
Clearly then, to the extent that the government/military/police executes God's wrath (cf. lethal force, death penalty, etc.), Christians cannot be a part of it (for this would precisely contradict Paul's exhortations in Romans 12).
I think Pastor Astor is correct to say we too quickly assume our duties in the Kingdom of God don't conflict with our 'duties' in the Kingdom of the world... but this is simply not the case. We must allow the message of the Kingdom to critique the way we live, even if we like being comfortable, and safe behind our handguns.
My two cents. Keep up the conversation!

Todd said...

Hi Jay

Your analogy is not quite fair. What would have happened if a tribesman would have been running around killing his fellow tribesman? And the missionary just stood there and said "I am in God's Kingdom not the kingdom of this world," and "I love you neighbors, but we must not harm this neighbor that is killing you, that would be wrong."
You see what I am saying?

O.K. maybe my analogy isn't quite fair either. Because it sounds like some are saying that they would try and stop the killer, but not with deadly force. But with real force, yes? How much is O.K?

The problem is, sometimes deadly force is necessary. And sometimes if you fail to use deadly force, then others die unjustly.

I think a lot of this comes down to the idea that killing is always wrong.

I think the Bible makes a clear distinction between killing and murder. Killing unjustly is murder. Not all killing is unjust.


Todd said...

I also wanted to comment on this thought by Pastor Astor.

"We are dead to ourselves and alive to Christ. We are no longer citizens of our countries, but citizens of heaven. If this is true we live by Christ and by the law of the kingdom. If not, we have left king and country."

I think the assumption here is that killing is always wrong. Again, I don't think this is the case.

I don't think you are saying that since we are in God's Kingdom, we shouldn't worry about earthly kingdoms (governments). Because if that was the case, why even try to limit guns in the first place?

We want to limit guns (I think to some extent rightly) because we believe it will protect the innocent from harm. And we think it is good to protect the innocent from harm.

But that is exactly what guns do when in the hand of a just user (such as, in general, a policeman, or a U.S. soldier, or even a Christian).


José Solano said...

Bill in Boston,

Whenever we interpret the Bible, it is important to be very mindful of context. We should be very careful when we jump from an analysis of Luke 22 to Romans 13 as these are two extremely different contexts. Contexts related to Luke 22 are more easily found in the Gospel references to the arrest of Jesus and Jesus’ instructions to His disciples than in the Pauline letters that refer to other things. I’ll see if I have time to address Rom. 13 later.

I am taking no liberty at all in my straightforward interpretation of what Jesus is saying about “all who take up the sword.” The context is Peter resisting the arrest Jesus and his attempted murder of the guard with a weapon. I am not fiddling with picayune pharisaic interpretation of words. The rebuke obviously applies to the use of a weapon to inflict harm on another, which you recognize as my “interpretation.” To me it is hardly an interpretation. It’s what the statement says.

You begin an interpretation by adding the notion “offensive use of a weapon (when lives are not endangered).” Let me provide some more context. Lives were indeed in danger. The disciples knew perfectly well that when this cohort of Roman soldiers and guards came everyone’s life was in danger. This was not a boy scout troop making a citizen’s arrest. They’d club you and stomp your face without batting an eyelash. They’re coming for you in the middle of the night with a traitor who just sold out your Lord. Get the context? This is a very nasty bunch.

Let me expand the context. As it turns out the disciples were asleep while Jesus was praying and they were so tired they could not stay awake for long. Jesus admonishes Peter for not being able to stay awake and tells him, “Watch and pray, lest you enter into temptation.” Hmm. “Enter into temptation.” And three times he finds Peter and the other disciples asleep. Jesus then seeing his betrayer and the guards coming awakens them saying, “Rise, let us be going. See, my betrayer is at hand.”

Try to visualize the context. The sleeping disciples are startled. Perhaps half-asleep they see themselves surrounded by a mob with swords and clubs, lanterns in the night, probably lots of commotion and Peter pulls out his sword and strikes. And right at that point Jesus yells out his famous statement that all of his earliest disciples understood perfectly well. “. . . All who take the sword will perish by the sword.”

Briefly I will say that in Romans 13 we have reference to a faithless government, Rome, that is nevertheless used by God to maintain some order. It must not be naively assumed that Rome did not take up the sword in vain repeatedly. God uses Rome as he used Babylon, as he uses Satan. This in no way means that Christians are to emulate the tactics of any of these malevolent forces. Christians serve God in a totally different way. They set for the world a much higher standard, an example of how the people who have turned to God must behave. They must be extremely careful of what jobs they hold in Roman or US government. More on this perhaps later. There is no contradiction only a lack of understanding.

I am not “an adherent to consistent application of universal context,” as I understand what you’re trying to say, and my comments remain in context. Your example therefore of Mt. 7:12 is not relevant to an out of context analogy. The understanding of that passage is also clear from itself and it has its parallel in Luke 6:31. “All’ means all in Mt. 26:52 and easily understood advice is also given in Mt. 7:12/Lk. 6:31. The don’t-make-anyone-feel-unpleasant conclusion that you draw up is absurd. Everything must be understood in context.

Unknown said...


I am sorry if I have misrepresented your point of view. It is not my intention to do so.

I think that Mt 7:12 is very relevant to this discussion, not because the principle contained therein is directly analogous to that in Mt. 26:52, but because I believe your method of interpretation is not consistently applied for both.

In reference to the phrase "...for all who take the sword will perish by the sword" found in Mt. 26:52, you state:

"The word “all” is all-inclusive and should not leave any straw to grasp on to for any justification of killing."

I think the fairest interpretation is that the word "all" here implies that the statement that followed pertains to every person (remember the wording is actually "all who"). It appears you are further broadening the interpretation to claim that "all" not only implies pertinence to everyone but also implies application to a much broader set of circumstances than contained in the context of verse 52.

Now consider Mt. 7:12, "So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets." As I pointed out, the language here says "So in everything". Unlike the "all who" of Mt. 26:52, here the text actually appears to be stating that the principle applies to every circumstance. The fact that the parallel statement in Luke 6:31 does not contain the "so in everything" phrase is not relevant, since I doubt you are claiming that the Mt. 7:12 language is in error. Furthermore, the context here is that of a general teaching. It apparently was not given in response to a particular event which could potentially limit its scope, as is possible in Mt. 26:52.

This is why I think that if you claim the "all who" of Mt 26:52 actually implies a broadening of circumstances beyond the particular type exhibited by Peter, that you certainly should not be dismissive of a broad definition of the "so in everything" language of Mt. 7:12 -- including circumstances where someone is endangering human life.

In other words, if "all who" means that bearing the sword for defense of human life is forbidden, then "so in everything" should mean that defense of human life is not an adequate exception to permit spraying mace in someone's face.

Since I am not positive that I have correctly understood the meaning of "all" you are attempting to convey in your discussion of Mt. 26:52, I will suppose for a moment that you are instead not claiming a broader scope of actions are included in the rebuke than the particular type committed by Peter. Then our disagreement only centers around the characterization of the type of action that Peter undertook.

I think you believe that when Peter acted, he was doing so in defense of human life. Yet there is no record of any soldier or non-soldier in the crowd making any aggressive act toward anyone. Peter initiated violence and was clearly the aggressor. Also, remember that the Roman soldiers represented human authority, and they were on official duty -- so the mere presence of weapons among them or the crowd they accompanied certainly does not qualify as intent to kill anyone. I also disagree with your characterization of the Roman soldiers as so generally undisciplined that they could be reasonably expected to commit murder rather than performing the arrest as ordered. Obviously, the others in the crowd are a wild card, but again we lack evidence of a provocation.

The situation would be analogous today to the police showing up to arrest some suspects while accompanied by a crowd of people (also apparently armed). If without any further provocation one of the suspects proceeded to shoot an arbitrary member of the crowd and later claimed self defense, we know that claim would never hold up in court. It would not matter if the suspect believed the police are nasty, or that the suspect had little sleep, or that the suspect was under great stress. Such factors could possibly help to mitigate his ultimate sentence, but they would not change the nature of his crime.

Also, I do not find the "short sword" explanation of Luke 22:36 sufficient to avoid conflict with verse 38. Even if we make the assumption that Jesus was intending "short swords" to be bought by disciples who lacked them, it is strange He did not preempt the confusion that caused the disciples to apparently produce long swords in v. 38. At that point, He seemingly chose again not to make it clear that He disapproved of bearing weapons, since the disciples took the swords to the garden with Jesus' knowledge.

It begs the question: if bearing (long) swords is a sin, why did Jesus not issue a rebuke until Peter's aggression in the garden? Why would He wait until a greater sin had been committed before issuing a rebuke?

I find it much more plausible that the disciples had yet to have committed a sin with the swords before Peter assaulted the servant in the garden.

I will comment on Romans 13 in a separate post.

José Solano said...

Bill in Boston,

Thank you for sharing your views.

In Mt. 26:52 there is only one person actually using the sword to strike someone. If the statement did not apply to All, Jesus should have said, “If you (Peter) use the sword you will perish by the sword.” Instead He makes a sweeping statement. His “all” must refer to all the Apostles and to all Christians and indeed to the soldiers and guards but they are already in a perishing state. The idea that it merely means you are not to use the sword as a weapon Now, in these circumstances but perhaps Later in other circumstances, is where we really stretch the clear meaning. At the deeper, non-literal level it is an admonishment of the entire urge to kill, the interest in killing, after all, we should be gentle as doves and our weapons and armor are perfectly described in Ephesians 6.

In Mt. 7:12 we have a broader application only because it relates to more than just the violent action of killing, but the advice is still given to everyone in every situation as a golden rule that is easily understood. Both Mt. 26:52 and Mt. 7:12 have universal application.

There is some ambiguity in Mt. 7:12 for those focused only on the “knee” of the elephant and so cannot see it’s an elephant. You have to stand back and simply take it on face value or you’ll misinterpret the intent of the rule. It clearly has nothing to do with not making someone uncomfortable because we do not like being uncomfortable. And it doesn’t mean hurting someone because you’re a masochist. It takes some acrobatic sophistry or silliness to conjure up such interpretations. George Bernard Shaw came up with a funny one: “Do not do unto others as you would they should do unto you; 
their tastes may not be the same as yours.”
 Jesus didn’t even invent this golden rule and it was a very familiar aphorism. Just as with Mt. 26:52, its absolute and universal application can be understood even by a child, often more easily by a child.

I must say that your view of Roman soldiers and the Sanhedrin guard as sort of nice-guy boy scouts is far removed from the realities of those days. Why would the disciples be so terrified of them? “Then they all forsook Him and fled. . . . And the young men laid hold of him, and he left the linen cloth and fled from them naked.” Sounds like they’re fleeing for their lives. Stop to consider what it would have been like to be thrown in a dungeon in those days. These soldiers were absolutely brutal. The disciples were petrified. They had all asked Jesus, “Lord, shall we strike with the sword?” (Lk. 27:49) Jesus tells them they’ll perish if they do and they went into hiding for days. I think in the Passion of Christ Mel Gibson gave an excellent portrayal of what Roman soldiers tended to be like.

Your analogy with present day police action or possible court defenses, etc., is thoroughly disconnected to the conditions and procedures of the times. The tensions between Romans and Jews at the time were enormous and we know they soon after precipitated the total destruction of Jerusalem.

I do not know what you are talking about with reference to short and long swords. The words in Lk. 22:36 and v. 38 are the same. The former is singular the latter plural. Whatever, you create an argument from silence. Your position therefore has no foundation. Carrying a long or short sword is not a problem. The problem is using it to kill someone. That’s what the rebuke is about.

The sequence between the disciples asking to strike with the sword and Peter’s impetuous assault is described above.


Unknown said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Unknown said...

On Romans 13

I believe that Romans 13 does directly contradict an interpretation of Mt. 26:52 that renders all use of weapons sinful.

Romans 13
3 For rulers hold no terror for those who do right, but for those who do wrong. Do you want to be free from fear of the one in authority? Then do what is right and he will commend you. 4 For he 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 believe the proper definition of agent for this context is "one who is authorized to act for or in the place of another." If a person is truly acting as God's servant and is an agent of His wrath, then he or she is authorized to carry out that wrath. To say that the agent has sinned in doing so implies a lack of authorization by God and thus a loss of agency.

Bearing the sword is explicitly linked in this passage to being part of this agency. How can all use of the sword be interpreted as sinful in Mt 26:52 if here it is authorized by God?

The fact that human government sometimes carries out injustice with the sword only means that such actions do not fall under the agency of God's wrath. The perpetrators will be judged accordingly.

The Bible records multiple instances where God uses angels to enact His wrath. Did these angels sin? Do you believe God is using fallen angels or that the angels become fallen after carrying out God's wrath?

Consider 1 Chron. 21:15, "And God sent an angel to destroy Jerusalem. But as the angel was doing so, the Lord saw it and was grieved because of the calamity and said to the angel who was destroying the people, "Enough! Withdraw your hand." The angel of the Lord was then standing at the threshing floor of Araunah the Jebusite."

Here we not only see that God sent an angel to destroy Jerusalem, but that it was the "angel of the Lord", not a fallen angel. God did show mercy in the midst of His wrath, but this does not contradict the fact that He authorized the angel to perform the destruction that transpired prior to that point. Notice that the account continues to reference the angel as the "angel of the Lord" even after he killed people (e.g., v. 18, and quoting v. 16, "David looked up and saw the angel of the Lord standing between heaven and earth, with a drawn sword in his hand extended over Jerusalem. Then David and the elders, clothed in sackcloth, fell facedown.") Notice also that the passage explicitly mentions the angel having a drawn sword.

It would be untrue to claim that angels are held to a lower standard of conduct than human beings. If an angel attempted to take a human life apart from God's command to enact wrath, that angel would become fallen.

Here is the main point. Because the angel is truly an agent of God's wrath the action performed is righteous rather than unrighteous and so is the case when human government enacts justice (not injustice).

Daniel raised the question concerning whether or not Christians could ever be agents of God's wrath based in part on Rom 12:19, "Do not take revenge, my friends, but leave room for God's wrath..." This verse forbids revenge. It does not forbid a Christian from acting in a capacity that administers justice, and thus being an agent of God's wrath. However if, for instance, a police officer acts in revenge rather than justice, then he or she is acting outside the agency of God's wrath and has sinned.

Regarding the extent and circumstances under which government can properly extend the agency of God's wrath to individual citizens, I don't think the Bible addresses this point. However, I consider it improbable that God would not allow such a provision for cases where official human authority could not respond in a timely enough manner to stop the destruction of human life.

Unknown said...


I have never argued that the Roman soldiers were "boy scouts". Obviously, they were to be feared.

Your main argument seems to be that Peter was acting in defense of human life because he was terrified that the soldiers were about to kill him, the other disciples, and perhaps Jesus Himself. If you are correct that Peter was acting out of terror, then his response to the crisis makes no sense.

If you were terrified that you were about to be killed, the last thing you would do is to attack when your group only possesses two swords! This would amount to suicide. Instead you would try to cooperate fully, regardless of whether or not the soldiers abused you.

Peter's motivation was made known to us by Jesus in John 18:11, "11 Jesus commanded Peter, 'Put your sword away! Shall I not drink the cup the Father has given me?'" Also, Matthew and Mark place the arrest of Jesus just prior to Peter's assault (showing that the disciples understood the motive of the crowd), and Luke and John just after. Luke 22:49 says, "When Jesus' followers saw what was going to happen, they said, "Lord, should we strike with our swords?" So even in an account that places the arrest after Peter's assault, it is clear that the disciples understood what was about to happen. It does not say they had a mistaken impression.

Peter was trying to prevent the arrest of Jesus, and at that point he was clearly ready to die doing it. When Jesus was voluntarily arrested, rebuking Peter in the process, Peter loses heart and begins his downward slide that will lead to his denials.

The alternative theory, i.e., Peter was terrified they were about to be killed and therefore attacked the fearsome group before him while having only two swords amongst the disciples, is not coherent.

I do not believe there is a reasonable claim for Peter acting in defense of human life. He was the one who initiated violent action that endangered lives.

As far as the short versus long sword controversy, you were the one who introduced this concept. You stated:

"His pre-passion advice is for them to be prepared for they are in for a much longer journey. A short sword (máchaira) would be essential for cutting food, skinning animals and many other survival functions that have nothing to do with killing people. When we go camping we often take large knives, axes, etc. but their purpose is not to kill anyone. Such a short sword (large knife) could certainly be misused to kill someone but clearly its use to defend against the heavily armed guards would be futile, even absurd.

I assume here that by "pre-passion advice" you are referring to Luke 22:36, in which Jesus tells the disciples to buy swords who currently lack them. It seems that you are indicating that He intended for them to buy short swords (or knives) for routine, non-weapon purposes. I pointed out that the disciples obviously did not understand Him to mean this since they apparently produced "long" swords (i.e., the lethal weapon variety) in verse 38. It would be very strange that Jesus would not immediately correct them.

In your latest post you said "Carrying a long or short sword is not a problem. The problem is using it to kill someone." Since you admit above that it would be absurd to use a short sword to attack someone, it is probable that the disciples were carrying two "long" swords when Peter attacked. If these were primarily used for weapons, it seems that a red flag should have went up for Jesus when the disciples produced them in Luke 22:38.

Why would Jesus allow His disciples to carry weapons to the garden? It simply does not make sense unless there is a legitimate use of weapons to protect human life.

José Solano said...

Well, it looks as if we have fallen back on resorting primarily to OT quotes when we should realize that the NT holds us to a higher standard.

An interpretation of Romans 13 that flies in the face of everything written in the NT regarding Christian peaceful comportment is how one forces the view that the NT has an inconsistent and contradictory teaching. Rather than subvert everything taught by Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount, taught by Paul himself throughout his epistles, and taught by every other NT writer, it would be best to take a deeper look into what Romans 13 is saying.

Too many people work too hard at trying to reconcile the thorough and explicit teaching of peace found throughout the NT with the abstract expressions justifying the Christian’s need to be obedient to the laws of government taught in Romans 13. It would be more reasonable to work at reconciling Romans 13 with “turning the other cheek.”

I have already stated how it is that God uses these “agents,” Caligula, Nero, Domitian, the Babylonians, even Satan himself, “the ruler of this age,” without saying that we must emulate their conduct. Indeed, Rome is metaphorically identified with Satan and Babylon the Great in Rev.18:21 and 24.

(In Rev. 13:9-10 we find a most telling statement for anyone who has an ear to hear: “. . . He who kills with the sword must be killed with the sword.” Now where have we heard that before?)

During the time that Paul is writing Romans (55-57 AD) there is considerable rebellious talk and activity against Rome. On the throne is God’s “agent” Nero. Wow, what a concept! And what a contrast with what Revelations says about Rome and its agents. I’m sure Nero must have loved that idea as has every other despot since. Any group of murderous thugs that takes control of a people can now claim to be “agents” of God.

But this is not what Paul is talking about. Paul does not want Christians to get into the rebellion mindset and it is in this context that Paul provides his advice of not resisting the authorities. The rationale for not resisting is that God uses government to maintain order and Christians are supposed to be living exemplary peaceful lives not adding to the violence and chaos in the world. The message is not that when Christians get into government they can start killing people and waging war. That was a convenient distortion that developed after Christians starting getting into government and needed rationalizations for their increasingly worldly pursuits. After Constantine Christians start taking control of the world and of course the distorted understanding of Romans 13 converts the lambs into wolves.

Paul has no thought that Christians will ever enter government as sword wielding killers. Indeed, he is suspecting the end of the world fairly soon. Romans 13 informs Christians of what their relationship to government should be: Subjects. He says the same thing of slaves in relation to their owners and is not saying that Christian slaves may aspire to be slave owners.

Enough for now. I’ll try to address your latest comment as time permits. I can quickly say that you may need to broaden your understanding of the variables of fight/flight reactions, both of which are witnessed in Gethsemane.


Todd said...

I am really enjoying this dialog. And don't want to side track Bill and Jose. But I am wondering how a pacifist deals with what Dr. Witherington posted about recently:

"At least 450,000 people have died in the horrible ethnic and religious cleansing that has been going on in the Darfur region of Sudan, most victims being Christians living in Christian villages in the western end of that region. Many of those villages have been entirely destroyed, and the Sudanese government has done little or nothing to stop it. Indeed they were one of the instigators who supported and armed a rebel group that got this disaster started in 2003. President Bush yesterday said he found the situation evil and appalling, but took no action, apparently because there may be something brewing in the United Nations by way of intervention. We shall see."

I am curious to what intervention you think president Bush, or the U.N. should take? Would it be sinful for the intervention to include the show and use of force to stop the ethnic and religious genocide?


José Solano said...

Hi Todd,

Dr. Witherington can of course respond very well for himself but your question appears open to any pacifist.

My response to your question is very simple. It is not a question of what I or Bush or anyone would do. It is a question of what Jesus Christ teaches us to do. That’s the first thing a Christian must determine. Can we objectively determine what Jesus is asking of us. That’s what this thread is examining. You can be quite certain that even if Christians recognize what Jesus wants us to do, which I understand is to apply the Sermon on the Mount, most will not do it.

I believe that Jesus wants us to respond to such situations peacefully, without killing anyone. But I make no assumptions about my strength and faith to follow what Jesus wants me to do. Nor do I say it is sufficient to merely recognize that Jesus wants us to be exemplary peacemakers and not do it. The Arminian in me comes out in this confession. The temptation to violate the instructions of Jesus in such horrendous circumstances is enormous. I can almost say that I Will fall as I fail every day in so many ways. God help me.

But I will not justify my disobedience and I realize I might be found even more responsible, more blameworthy for my failure, for my weakness, because I know better. In fact, as I look around at my life and my actions, there is hardly anything other that I can say than, Lord be merciful to me a sinner and fall on my face.

Mike said...

Of course. Jose is right. I concede my position. The NT holds us to a higher standard because the books of the OT (comprising 2/3 of the entire Scriptures) is obsolete. I wonder why God would have inspired that to stay in there?? Anyway, I'm sure that the nature of God changed when the Sacrifice was made, and He certainly wouldn't want people to go around punishing those who do evil anymore. He wouldn't want us to use force to stop genocide because His basic nature has completely changed. All that we learn about who God is from the OT has gone the way of 8-track tapes because the NT is the only part we need to pay attention to.e

Unknown said...


I will make three points.

1) The passage you cite in Revelation 13

Although the KJV and NAS wordings agree with your quote, a number of other translations do not. For instance, the NIV says:
"10 If anyone is to go into captivity, into captivity he will go. If anyone is to be killed with the sword, with the sword he will be killed. This calls for patient endurance and faithfulness on the part of the saints."

I think the above wording is probably more accurate based on the context. The verse is saying that the saints will have to patiently endure imprisonment and/or be executed, according to God's will for each individual.

2) On the agency of God's wrath

You have dismissed my argument concerning angels enacting God's wrath because I have referenced the Old Testament. I note that Revelation also gives numerous examples of the same principle. The argument is exactly the same for angels carrying out God's wrath in the NT.

Furthermore, you state that we are held to a higher standard. Since I did not reference any of the law of the OT, only recorded history about an angel, your statement can only mean that we are held to a higher standard of conduct than the angels. Yet we know that as when Jesus took on human flesh, we have been created a little lower than the angels. We also know that to whom much is given, much is required. I cannot believe that the angels, who stand constantly in the presence of God, are held to a lower standard of conduct than human beings. If an angel of the Lord can enact God's wrath as His agent without committing sin (as in 1 Chron. 21:15), then it follows that a human being can also righteously enact God's wrath through the same agency. Romans 13:3-4 demonstrates that God grants human government such agency.

Once more Rom. 13:4 states of governing authority, "For he 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."

In relation to this discussion you said, "On the throne is God’s “agent” Nero. Wow, what a concept! And what a contrast with what Revelations says about Rome and its agents. I’m sure Nero must have loved that idea as has every other despot since. Any group of murderous thugs that takes control of a people can now claim to be “agents” of God."

I realize that you believe this is a criticism of the argument I presented. However, this quote seems more to be in conflict with your position. You appear to claim that the only valid agents of God's wrath are ungodly rulers, allowing no possibility for believers to fulfill such a role. If so, challenging the concept of Nero as God's agent is not helpful to your cause. If instead you are contesting the phrase "God's servant, an agent of wrath...", then you must debate either the translator or Paul himself.

As I said before, the fact that many human rulers commit evil does not mean that their evil acts are justified before God by claiming such agency. It is in the enforcement of good laws (not any evil ones) that they perform their role as an agent of God's wrath. In no way are the ruler's evil motivations or actions justified by this agency.

Also, you incorrectly group Satan with your collection of evil human leaders. God may indeed turn Satan's works against him, but Satan never does any just action. You are incorrect if you claim that Satan ever functions as "God's servant, an agent of wrath." Once again, I showed examples of the angels of God acting as agents of His wrath, not fallen angels. Can you show Biblical examples of Satan acting in this capacity?

3) The OT cannot be dismissed

I see Mike has also weighed in on this very relevant topic above.

Although you dismissed my previous argument because it was based on the OT, I think that certain NT texts actually demand that we do not ignore what the OT has to say.

First, I will quote from OT law:

Ex. 21:12 "Anyone who strikes a man and kills him shall surely be put to death."

For the moment, let us consider the pre-NT era, so that we should be able to see eye-to-eye on the interpretation. If a man commits murder, this command states that he must be put to death. However, by this same command, we might incorrectly infer that the executioner must then be killed, followed by his executioner, leading to an endless sequence of killing.

Only if the executioner is not held guilty of killing can his life be spared. It is the same principle as I discussed before, i.e., he is the agent of God's wrath, and thus, if he was only motivated by justice, he has committed a righteous act rather than an unrighteous one.

Now, I will cite the NT:

Romans 7:7 "What shall we say, then? Is the law sin? Certainly not! Indeed I would not have known what sin was except through the law..."

and also v. 12, "So then, the law is holy, and the commandment is holy, righteous and good."

Here Paul is saying that the law must not be regarded as sinful, but rather as holy. Paul does not say the law, or portions thereof, is now sinful and now unholy. He says the exact opposite.

So then if, for instance, I proclaim that an agent of the wrath of God who is motivated only by justice sins by executing a murderer, I am declaring that Exodus 21:12 is sinful and unholy, and thus contradicting the Romans 7 verses.

In concert with Romans 7, Jesus said in Mt. 5:17, ""Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them."

If Jesus was indeed declaring teachings that made certain actions in the law sinful, how could He claim not to be abolishing at least parts of the law? It is indeed true that Jesus did set the standards higher for us, but this was not through making any part of the law sinful.

The reality is that God's justice is not evil, and when it is enacted correctly by his agents it is righteous, holy, and approved by God. Though it is righteous, following the law cannot remove our sin. Only faith in Jesus Christ and His sacrifice on the cross can accomplish this.

Luke said...


I think in your zeal to apply the OT to today, you fail to appreciate not only the covenantal context of the mosaic law as a bond of service between God and a particular people (ex 20:2), but more specifically the liturgical and ceremonial context of the shedding of blood in the law (Nu 35:33), and thus you have difficulty seeing how a command such as exodus 21:12 could be in any sense "fulfilled" by the work of Jesus.

It would be sinful in my opinion to offer a sacrifice today according to the exact prescriptions given in the OT law, and so I don't think you are quite hearing Paul right in what he is saying about the law and its usefulness in Rom 7. If Jesus has fulfilled the law, or some part of it, then to follow that part or whole rather than to look to Jesus' fulfillment would be have to be at least an error, if not a sin.

If, however, no part of the law has been abrogated by Jesus, as you seem to suggest, then do you believe that the state is obligated to find and kill a red heifer in the case of every unsolved murder? (Deuteronomy 21:1-9) If not, why not? Have you ever called your congressman about this?

Mike said...

I have a question about something that may be relevant to the discussion. In my sunday school class, I've been leading a discussion on the imago dei. Something that was brought up was the concept that God takes very seriously any action that desecrates the image of God in man. In Genesis 6:9 the command is given (pre-mosaic law) that if a man sheds man's blood then his blood shall be given in payment. The question here is whether that particular law is in effect. It is not part of the Noahic Covenant as far as I can tell and it has to do with the imago dei anyhow. Do we agree that the imago dei exists in all persons, under all covenants, and therefore God takes this command seriously under every covenant, or did something happen to the imago dei that God does not hold us to that standard any longer??

José Solano said...

“I cannot believe that the angels, who stand constantly in the presence of God, are held to a lower standard of conduct than human beings.”
(Bill in Boston)

I have only one point to make at this time.

“Do you not know that we shall judge angels?” Believe it or not.

More perhaps later as time permits.


Todd said...

Hi Jose

In regard to the Darfur example you stated:

"I believe that Jesus wants us to respond to such situations (genocide) peacefully, without killing anyone."

What would that look like?

It sounds like you believe that Jesus holds the value of peace above all others. That "peace" is more important than saving innocent human beings from being unjustly slaughtered. But does your "peaceful" response increase peace or decrease peace? If the U.N. or U.S. intervened with force, would there be more or less peace in Darfur?

Unfortunately, although your intensions are good, your "peaceful" solutions only create less peace, and more murder, rape, and injustice.

Please consider these things.


Todd said...

Hi Jose

I meant to say that I will give you the last word.

I do want to emphasize that I appreciate your sincere desire to follow the LORD. And it may be that God has called you (and Luke) to unconditional nonviolence. But I think it is a mistake to think that this is the right response for all Christians in all situations.


José Solano said...

Hi Todd,

(I’ve written some rather long and detailed responses but I’ve had to figure out how to abridge them. A question may be short —what to do about Darfur— but the answer can be exhaustingly long.)

Peace and love go hand in hand. Peace is one of the manifestations of love. One must not try to impose peace by war. That obviously has not worked since the beginning of time. By that approach we find ourselves here today more threatened by total annihilation than ever before. We certainly cannot blame the world situation on the few pacifists that exist. They are at worse insignificant and at best just point the way to another response to violence, the absolute opposite response.

I am not naïve enough to imagine that the peaceful actions of a few people will bring about world peace. I don’t think world peace will be accomplished without divine intervention. Maranatha. But, that does not mean I advocate sitting around and doing nothing till the end arrives. I propose we do exactly what Christ’s teaching explicitly asks us to do.

“If your enemy is hungry, feed him; If he is thirsty, give him to drink; For in so doing you will heap coals of fire upon his head. Do not overcome evil with evil but overcome evil with good.”

But governments prefer dropping napalm upon the enemy's head. It’s amazing how the obvious teaching can be explained away.

I propose examining carefully the basic needs of the people in Darfur and the national and international actions that exacerbate and exploit the situation. I would bombard them with food, medicine, medics and a salvation army of 100,000 troops for a start. I would transform our swords into plowshares, our tanks into tractors.

And yet this will not necessarily bring peace or even reduce the level of violence but we will have followed Jesus’ teaching, his example and that of his disciples. We would set an example.

I just read Josephus’ account of the siege and destruction of Jerusalem. Here is a brief description of what occurred when Bill in Boston’s allegedly well-disciplined troops ignored all orders and went on a frenzied rampage.

“While the Temple was ablaze, the attackers plundered it, and countless people who were caught by them were slaughtered. There was no pity for age and no regard was accorded rank; children and old men, laymen and priests, alike were butchered; every class was pursued and crushed in the grip of war, whether they cried out for mercy or offered resistance.

Through the roar of the flames streaming far and wide, the groans of the falling victims were heard; such was the height of the hill and the magnitude of the blazing pile that the entire city seemed to be ablaze; and the noise - nothing more deafening and frightening could be imagined.

There were the war cries of the Roman legions as they swept onwards en masse, the yells of the rebels encircled by fire and sword, the panic of the people who, cut off above, fled into the arms of the enemy, and their shrieks as they met their fate. The cries on the hill blended with those of the multitudes in the city below; and now many people who were exhausted and tongue-tied as a result of hunger, when they beheld the Temple on fire, found strength once more to lament and wail. Peraea and the surrounding hills, added their echoes to the deafening din. But more horrifying than the din were the sufferings.” (Darfur)

What did the Christians in these areas do? They must have offered help to the suffering, they prayed or they fled. Many must have been slaughtered also. Never a word of lifting up a sword to kill anyone.

What would you have advocated Todd if you were there in Jerusalem knowing that the Roman legions were heading your way in 66 - 70 AD. Would you have been with the Zealots or the Christians? The Zealots do seem like an excellent metaphor for our noble warriors, our freedom fighters.

Todd said...

Hi Jose

I was going to give you the last word, but you asked me a question.

I would do what Jesus told me to do:

"But when you see Jerusalem surrounded by armies, then know that its desolation is near. Then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains, let those who are in the midst of her depart, and lot not those who are in the country enter her. For these are the days of vengeance, that all things which are written may be fulfilled."
(Luke 21:20-22)


Unknown said...


I actually agree with much of what you have said.

Here is your key statement:
"If Jesus has fulfilled the law, or some part of it, then to follow that part or whole rather than to look to Jesus' fulfillment would be have to be at least an error, if not a sin."

I think you have stated this quite well (and much better than I would have), but our difference likely rests in the particular action we believe is sinful. I will return to this topic shortly.

I believe Jesus fulfilled the law in a global sense in that, for all believers, He is our righteousness. We cannot be found righteous by attempting to follow the law. The Old Covenant principle of obeying the law and offering animal sacrifices in order to obtain righteousness has been replaced by the New Covenant in Jesus' blood.

However, this fact did not directly imply a suspension of the entire law. Jesus made it clear that we must continue to uphold the moral provisions of the law. However, we no longer must follow the civil or ceremonial provisions of the law to avoid sin. These provisions of the law amounted to applications of the moral law (the commandments). This does not mean that the civil and ceremonial provisions have been rendered sinful. They are simply no longer required.

In a specific sense Jesus' fulfillment as our righteousness means that the provisions of the law dealing with sacrifice are now met. It is in this specific sense of fulfillment, the sacrifice for righteousness, that your key statement above comes into play.

We agree that animal sacrifices, which were the foreshadows of Christ's sacrifice, should no longer be performed. But the very valid question your post raises is -- would it be sinful to perform such sacrifices?

Here is a pertinent question to consider. Do you think in the Judgment that God will count each sacrifice that any particular Jewish priest offered after the death of Jesus as a sin?

My answer is no. This is because I believe its not the action of sacrifice that was or is sinful. It is because the priest did not believe on Jesus as the Christ, his Redeemer from sin, that he will be held to account. The sin of unbelief was made clear by Jesus when he said "whoever does not believe is condemned already". After Jesus' death, it is only unbelief that motivates an OT sacrifice. Anyone who offers an OT sacrifice demonstrates their sin of unbelief, and this is the same for everyone else who tries to obtain righteousness by any means but Jesus.

So, I am saying it is not the action of sacrifice that is sinful, it is the unbelief in Jesus Christ which precipitates that action that is sinful. I do not believe it will be relevant in the Judgment whether a Jewish priest offered 100 or 1000 sacrifices after Jesus died. What will matter is his sin of unbelief. This is why I continue to take Paul's statements in Roman 7 without qualification, i.e., that the law is not sinful but rather is holy. Paul did not say all provisions are still applicable, and that's the important distinction. Red heifers can breathe a sigh of relief ;-)

Finally, I don't believe Ex. 21:12 can be dismissed on the basis of it being a sacrificial provision, because I don't think it falls under this category.

You cited a passage that is indeed a sacrificial provision of a sort. Numbers 35 states, "33 'Do not pollute the land where you are. Bloodshed pollutes the land, and atonement cannot be made for the land on which blood has been shed, except by the blood of the one who shed it. 34 Do not defile the land where you live and where I dwell, for I, the Lord, dwell among the Israelites."

This passage does make it clear that God considered the land cleansed when a murderer was put to death. The problem with trying to use the same motivation for Ex. 21:12 is that the Israelites did not yet possess any territory of their own. They were nomadic at the time. So, there has to be a justification for this provision other than sacrifice to purify the land. Also I would note that Ex. 21 does not have a sacrificial context but rather one of civil justice. Furthermore, I do not believe God ever indicates that the execution of a murderer atones for personal sin, which is what Jesus died for.

God's motivation to purify the land in Numbers 35:33 is not the sole motivation listed even in that sequence. Just two verses earlier God said, "31 Do not accept a ransom for the life of a murderer, who deserves to die. He must surely be put to death." Here, God is stating that justice demands the death of the murderer -- he deserves to die. This is said apart from anything to do with cleansing the land.

Mike raised an important point that supports this position. Genesis 9 states, "5 And for your lifeblood I will surely demand an accounting. I will demand an accounting from every animal. And from each man, too, I will demand an accounting for the life of his fellow man. 6 Whoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed; for in the image of God has God made man."

This passage makes it clear that God is demanding an accounting for murder, i.e., justice. He demands humans execute both humans and animals who have taken the lives of human beings, because the murdered human was created in the image of God. As Mike astutely points out, human beings are still created in the image of God. How can God claim to be consistent and unchanging if He gives this justification for capital punishment of murderers here in Genesis 9:6, another consistent and related justification in Numbers 35:31, but then somehow indirectly rescinds the justification in the NT and makes capital punishment a sin?

kamatu said...

Interesting discussion, although IMO the conclusion of the blog post depends on personal decisions of believers, specifically that of Dr. Witherington. A few points to be made:

1) There is more than vengance to being armed. Also, trying to limit the debate to "acceptable" and "unacceptable" weapons sounds silly. Where does one draw the line?

2) Be very careful with calling for psych controls. They were and are used by certain groups to crush dissent by those that fail to keep the group dogma. Christians have been the target of some of this. The _only_ time there might be a case would be for someone who is psychotic. However, if you want to play this card, then I'd simply point out that the popular gun control position is only supported by those that have hoplophobia, which attributes animistic powers to inanimate objects ("guns kill people and if no guns, no killing"), which I'd submit requires no fancy verse quoting to find a problem with that. Graven images issue, you know.

3) Proposed alternate "defense" methods, which require A) the aggressor is not armed (interpose yourself, you die and for those you have just failed to protect, they will die tired from running) and B) the defender is physically capable of performing this "defense" manuver (do _you_ keep water boiling on the stove just for an intruder?). As the old saw goes, God created all men and Col Colt made them equal. There is a link between personal weapons technology and the growth of Christianity as well.

4) Attempting to blur the distinction between murder and killing, when there is a vast difference. There is no "lesser of two evils" issue here in the general case. Plenty of potential ones in individual cases.

5) I'd be real interested to see how Dr. Witherington feels about the entire submission to rulers/render unto Caesar concept with regards to the USA's governmental system. Specifically, who is "Caesar" in this context? Oh yeah, this relates to the gun control issue.

6) I'd suggest Dr. Witherington read the Federalist papers and several other contemporary sources before he starts making "strict constructionist" calls about the US Constitution. But on the whole militia canard, look up USC TITLE 10,Subtitle A,PART I,CHAPTER 13,§ 311, you might find it interesting.

7) As mentioned by an earlier poster, Dr. Witherington shows a lack of knowledge about firearms, which invalidates that portion, but that isn't part is his nonBiblical reasoning and therefore not related to Christianity.

8) The linkage between Christianity and a political position. Of course, interestingly enough, whenever this kind of hyperpacifistic Christianity (and Judaism) gain ground with the excessive deference to the "State" for protection, there is a result, which means a State more and more hostile to Christianity.

9) There is a moral issue involved and not only the relatively minor one of whether gun control would have kept guns out of the hands of one reputed nutcase. Yes, I did say minor. Why? Because every case of genocide in modern history depended on the disarmament of the target population so they cannot resist. It is a cold hard fact that multiple killings occur almost exclusively in heavily controlled areas, exactly like the VT president made the university. It seems these "stone cold killers" who are "nutcases" always seem to be able to pick target locations where they can be virtually totally positive there will be no capability for resistance. So, here we go, which is more moral, to protect the innocent from slaughter on a relatively small scale with gun control or protect them on not only the smaller scale of mass murder and the even larger one of genocide?

I'd find that answer real interesting given Dr. Witherington's eschatological position.

Todd said...

Hi Jose

I had to run, so I couldn't finish my thought.

Just because I am for force being used to stop unjustified killing, doesn't mean that I disagree with your statement:

"I propose examining carefully the basic needs of the people in Darfur and the national and international actions that exacerbate and exploit the situation. I would bombard them with food, medicine, medics and a salvation army of 100,000 troops for a start. I would transform our swords into plowshares, our tanks into tractors."

In fact, I think justified force that prevents mass killing and brings stability, justice, and peace to a region makes using the above "peaceful" interventions possible, and more likely to be beneficial.

O.K., really, I will give you the last word.


José Solano said...

Not to worry about “the last word” Todd.

You have answered well. You would have followed Jesus’ teaching of nonviolence and done nothing violent to stop the troops destroying Jerusalem.

Of course once you really see Jerusalem surrounded by the armies it is essentially too late for most to flee.

You would have done nothing to stop women and children from being slaughtered in the ensuing bloodbath and just followed your understanding of this Lukan rendering of the message, written after the fact and which is somewhat different from the eschatological imagery provided in Matthew and Mark which also advise heading for the hills, as God’s vengeance is visited on Jerusalem through His “agents” who bare not the sword in vain.

Now, I may not have exercised such objective obedience under those circumstances. I may have stayed behind and done what I could to help family and friends. I may have even taken up the sword. I may have reasoned that it was not an explicit order but just a general warning of the inevitable destruction and that fleeing did not mean I should not cut down some troops on my way out, etc. I might have ignored the Sermon on the Mount and everything else Jesus and the apostles taught about peaceful conduct. I may have come up with some highly abstract rationalizations to convince myself that there was nothing wrong with OT statements justifying killing the invaders and “war criminals.” I would probably have sought capital justice here on earth and abrogated God’s authority. And if I were totally losing it I would have demanded an “accounting of every animal” that was used by the Roman legions, horses and mastiffs alike. I might have totally confounded the understanding of justice and forgiveness and headed right back to that time of “an eye for and eye and a tooth for a tooth.”

But I fear that I am the one who will be held accountable as through Christ I know better. “You have heard it said . . . . But I tell you . . . .” Is this a rescinding or a higher calling?

Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me a sinner.


Unknown said...


I had said, "I cannot believe that the angels, who stand constantly in the presence of God, are held to a lower standard of conduct than human beings."

In response you said, "'Do you not know that we shall judge angels?' Believe it or not."

I am inferring from your reply that you believe the fact that Christians in heaven will judge angels at a future time implies that Christians are held to a higher standard of conduct than angels. I don't see a logical necessity that dictates that conclusion.

In fact, although I think there is limited information on this topic in the Bible, one fact is affirmed that does suggest angels actually are held to a higher standard of conduct than Christians. Multiple passages in the Bible confirm that when angels sin they are immediately cast from heaven and only have judgment to look forward to in the future. They are truly "fallen" angels. If we suddenly were held to this standard of conduct, we likely would not make it to tomorrow before we lost all inheritance. Fortunately, God the Father sent Jesus to redeem and restore us to Himself.

Therefore, the fact that Christians will judge angels does not mean that the actions of the angel recorded in 1 Chronicles 21:15 will be judged, for instance. Again, the angel was called the "angel of the Lord" after he enacted God's wrath by taking people's lives in Jerusalem. If the angel had sinned in performing this action he would have immediately become fallen and could not have been called the "angel of the Lord". This angel's action has already been judged as righteous by God.

I believe what will need to be determined by Christians is the magnitude of the sins committed by fallen angels pertaining to affairs on earth. This theory explains why Christians will be called to judge angels, i.e., fallen angels have been party to countless evils throughout human history on earth. A firsthand witness to the effects of a particular angel's interaction would be very relevant to judgment. After all, who would be a better judge of a group of angels called "Legion" than the man who was possessed and tormented by them until he was freed by Jesus?

Luke said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
José Solano said...

Bill in Boston.

I’m certainly no authority on angelogy. I posed the statement of judging angels to provoke some thought.

I think though that fallen angels are referred to as demons. When they fall the implication is that they are no longer angels. They are a legion of demons. You think that Paul is saying that we are going to be judging demons? It would seem to me that they have already been judged when they were evicted from heaven and it’s only a question of time before their malevolent influence over saved humans is terminated. If they fall so irrevocably, as you say, what is there for us to judge? Or is there hope for Satan? Will I be given authority to judge Satan, the chief of the fallen angels? I don’t think so.

If there are some other angels that we will be judging, what might we be judging? Obviously if it’s some sin then your assumption that they immediately fall from heaven if they sin doesn’t hold.

From my Orthodox brothers I learn:

“Are Angels higher than man, or is it the other way around?
In the Old Testament, Psalm 8:4-5, we read: "What is man, that Thou art mindful of him? Or the son of man, that Thou visitest him? Thou hast made him a little lower than the angels; with glory and honour hast Thou crowned him, and Thou hast set him over the works of Thy hands." From this it is clear that in the beginning God created man in a state "a little lower than the angels" -- after all, man was created after God had created the angels. However, at the Incarnation, when the pre-eternal Word and Son of God became man, the dignity of humanity was elevated and man is now in a state above that of the angels! How do we know that? In the New Testament, I Corinthians 6:2-3, we read: "Do ye not know that the saints shall judge the world? And if the world shall be judged by you, are ye unworthy to judge the smallest matters? Know ye not that we shall judge angels?" (

I think there is also Protestant thought along these lines. So if we are in a state above the angels might we not therefore be also held to a higher standard? I will repeat: “You have heard it said . . . . But I tell you . . . .” Doesn’t this sound like a higher calling and a higher standard than that demanded in the OT?

I’ll share more as time permits.


Luke said...


You say that some provisions of the law are not applicable but you don't elaborate enough for me to adequately respond to that. How do you decide if a provision is applicable or not? Why would you throw out the red heifer law in the case of an unsolved homicide, but keep the penal law in the case of a solved homicide?

The red heifer passage serves for me to cast serious doubt upon a position which denies that the death penalty was a ceremonial law, and that's why I brought it up. At the very least the passage seems to indicate that the classic distinction between "moral", and "ceremonial" laws is not as clear as might be supposed.

But irregardless of that, I still don't find it appropriate to apply the penal sanctions through the state. I think it is a misapplication, akin to the Masons using the Bible in their services. It's nice to see anyone using the bible, of course, but the law is "kept" in a genuine sense only when it is kept in the life and practice of the Church.

And in the Church, as Christians, I think we are bound to forgive rather than seek penalties. My opinion is that despite the strict sounding tone of the penal sanctions passages, forgiveness was always a valid option under the old covenant, and in most cases I think it was the option that God most desired to see, as He said, "I desire mercy more than sacrifice." But I don't think we have the same freedom in the New Covenant as in the Old to choose whether or not to forgive. The only choice that Jesus gives us is between forgiving others, and our own forgiveness, which He says He will rescind if we choose not to practice forgiveness. (Matt 6:14,15)

By the way, the fact that Israelites were nomads when the law was given is not relevant. They were on their way to Canaan, and there a clear implication that the law was for that land. Exodus 6:4 "And I have also established my covenant with them, to give them the land of Canaan." Other provisions in the law, such as those about fruit trees and such also don't make much sense in a nomadic context, but the implication in exodus is clearly that the law of the covenant is linked to the land of the covenant.

José Solano said...

“You are incorrect if you claim that Satan ever functions as ‘God's servant, an agent of wrath.’" . . . I showed examples of the angels of God acting as agents of His wrath, not fallen angels. Can you show Biblical examples of Satan acting in this capacity?” (Bill in Boston)

God does not use Satan by assigning him evil deeds to do, rather He allows him to do his evil for God’s own purposes. I had said “God uses Satan” not that God orders Satan to do evil. God allows his agents to do things that he would not ask the saints to do. An excellent example of this is of course 1 Cor. 5 where Paul says, “deliver such a one to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus.” We take Satan to mean the forces working outside of the Church as the person has been excommunicated. This Satan helps, without his willing it, to bring the sinner to repentance through whatever torments he might inflict on him.

He likewise has a function in Job.

In 1 Tim 1:20 we have an even more explicit reference in which Paul speaks of “Hymenaeus and Alexander, whom I delivered to Satan that they may learn not to blaspheme.” He is using Satan to teach them a lesson so we can certainly say that Satan is his agent of instruction and would certainly not be “bearing the sword” or whatever in vain.

Goethe put it quite well in Faust when he refers to Mephistopheles as the “spirit who wills evil but engenders good.” In this sense he is indirectly an agent of God though not in the same sense as the angel in 1 Chron. 21:15 who is directly instructed to kill. And in this sense Satan is like Nero or Caligula who are not directly called by God to do His will but may, like the Mafia or Stalin, bring about some order for their own devious ends. For the sake of maintaining peace you are obedient to their demands, but there is also a limit to your obedience. This is what Romans 13 is referring to and has nothing to do with any contradiction of everything Jesus and the Apostles taught by telling us to emulate these tyrants or their sword wielding tactics.

Now a quick word on 1 Chron. 21:15. Of course God may command his angels to kill. Indeed, God’s people in the OT are repeatedly commanded by God to kill. But my dear brother, thanks to Christ Jesus, those days are gone forever. The Son of God has called the saints to exercise a higher standard, a standard of perfection that we must recognize and towards which we must daily strive in our ongoing sanctification process. He has shown us the way to the cross and has sent us the Comforter that we may endure the trials of the via dolorosa. Will you be in that number when the saints go marching in? Perfection is not the criteria but repentance is.


Unknown said...


Again, Jesus made it clear that we must uphold the commandments (the moral provisions of the law) in order to avoid sin. I believe the civil and ceremonial provisions need not be practiced to avoid personal sin.

Furthermore, ceremonial aspects dealing with the offering of sacrifices for atonement should not be practiced because they have been specifically fulfilled by the sacrifice of Jesus, i.e., these provisions are no longer applicable (but not in themselves evil). No believer should harbor and demonstrate unbelief in the atoning sacrifice of Jesus by replacing it with the former, foreshadowing sacrifices. Such unbelief would be a sin.

As a side note, I think many ceremonial aspects that did not deal directly with sacrifice for atonement continued to be practiced by the early Jewish Christians, but these believers were rebuked whenever following any aspect of the law (ceremonial or otherwise) was mistakenly believed to be means of righteousness. So, there are some ceremonial provisions which may have some application, yet aren't required. For example, I know that many Jewish Christians continue to observe many aspects of the Passover celebration, even though the Lord's Supper is the ultimate fulfillment. As long as the latter fact is recognized (and a lamb is not offered as an atoning sacrifice), I don't believe there is any inconsistency.

So, I think the second paragraph above is the key for the current discussion. Remember, I was not claiming that capital punishment as outlined in Ex. 21:12 must be practiced, but that it is not evil to practice it, consistent with Romans 7 -- the law is not sin but rather is holy. Again, in the case of sacrificial provisions of the law, I have argued that the sin of unbelief in Jesus' atoning sacrifice (i.e., His specific fulfillment of the law) prevents access to the performance of the foreshadowing sacrifices (which are, in themselves, good not evil). So, if the only motivation for Ex. 21:12 if for sacrificial atonement of personal sin, then I must concede the point you are making.

You have offered Num. 35:33 and, I believe, Deut. 21:1-9 in support of a ceremonial atonement motivation for Ex. 21:12. I have offered Gen. 9:6 and Num. 35:31 in support of justice being a motivation for Ex. 21:12.

Let's suppose that both atonement and justice are motivations for the verse in question. The position I put forward remains intact even if the sacrificial atonement motivations are rendered no longer applicable because the justice motivations would remain.

In order to support the position that the practice of capital punishment is now preceded by the sin of unbelief in the sacrifice of Jesus, you must show that justice as outlined in Gen. 9:6 and Num. 35:31 was never a motivation for Ex. 21:12. Another possibility is that you claim these two passages are somehow veiled references to atonement. Yet another possibility is that you claim that contradictions to justice motivations are not relevant because parts of the law itself (such as capital punishment) are now sin and unholy, even though Romans 7 contains no qualifying statements.

This issue is really the core of our disagreement. I will try to write some of my perspectives on the other issues you raised later.

Luke said...

Bill, it seems to me we are off on a tangent and I'm beginning to worry that we are so far off the initial subject that we may be abusing this blog by carrying on. You are trying to corner me into making the statement that the law is sinful or unholy, but I'm not going to say that because I don't believe it. I don't disagree with the law, or with Paul in Romans 7. I disagree with you and your insistence that Ex 20:12 ought to be applied through the modern state. I think that your application is a misapplication and further I think it is a sin because Jesus as Lord of the New Covenant and the mediator of forgiveness requires forgiveness. Does that make Jesus at odds with the law? Again, no, because forgiveness is and was and remains a lawful concept. The Church through Jesus is the only lawful inheritor of the covenant and the law of the covenant. All others who pretend to administer that law, or to organize humanity under it's precepts are impostors and demons and builders of new Babels, and though they may have an appearance of law keeping, they are wolves in sheep's clothing.

Unknown said...


I don't believe this subject is tangential. If it is sinful for human government to execute a murderer even though this action is called for in the law and even though God has granted the agency of His wrath to the government, then certainly extension of that agency under limited circumstances to the individual citizen would always be sinful as well. The latter principle could only possibly receive justification by the former, and that's why we have been discussing the former.

I am not trying to corner you. I am trying to understand your position just as you are attempting to ascertain mine. The "back-and-forth" nature of debate should not be confused with hostility. I believe both of us are interested in discerning the truth, and I doubt either one of us would claim to have complete understanding of the topic -- I certainly do not. Also, contrary to your perception, I definitely never wanted you to express the belief that the law is sinful or unholy.

If I understand you correctly, you believe that mercy was an option under the law and that this is the only option that Jesus intends to be practiced now, and that practice of Ex. 20:12 is sinful for the modern state.

Let's assume that you are correct that mercy was an option under the law (though I have doubts that it was an option beyond the personal level). I still do not see how the availability of another option would permit the action in Ex. 20:12 to become sinful. It remains part of the law. It seems like this perspective would render Paul's statements in Romans 7 as 'options exist within the law that are holy and not sinful'. In other words, it's no longer the whole law but only a part of it that qualifies.

Jesus most definitely taught that we are to have mercy on others. I understand this mercy to be at a personal level, i.e., we are to forgive people who do wrong to us. However, we are in no position to forgive the wrong people inflict on others. In such situations we must demand justice. Mercy cannot abolish justice, and without punishment there is no justice.

Note what Jesus tells the Pharisees are the important matters of the law:

Matthew 23
23 "Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You give a tenth of your spices--mint, dill and cummin. But you have neglected the more important matters of the law--justice, mercy and faithfulness. You should have practiced the latter, without neglecting the former."

There must be a place for justice in addition to mercy.

Feel free to have the last word.

Luke said...


You persist in the question of how something the law permits/requires can become sinful without the law itself being sinful. I think you make that concept more complex than it needs to be. The parable of the unmerciful servant is the preeminent example in my mind of how this works. The Mosaic law allowed for the temporary enslavement of a man and his family if he was unable to pay his debts (Lev 25) The unmerciful servant in imprisoning his fellow could have argued that he was just following the law. But, though it was lawful to enslave his fellow servant, it was sinful (an unforgivable sin, resulting in damnation no less) at that point in the narrative which Jesus relates to enforce such a law. Why? Obviously because he himself had been forgiven a greater debt.

Do you see how this works? The narrative trumps the law. Another way to say this would be "timing is everything." I think your view of what the Christian view of the law ought to be doesn't give enough weight to where the Christian stands in the great narrative of redemption. Forgiveness requires forgiveness.

In my original post on this thread, I made two points about your approach to the law which I thought were mistaken. I want to repeat those because I think they still represent the strongest critique of your position.

The first was that in applying the law through the state, you were missing the covenantal context of the law. I reiterated that point in my last post. The law is a covenant between God and his people, and not a blueprint for statecraft. The Church has a wonderful inheritance from Israel through Jesus and the apostles, and it is a great tragedy of the post constantinian age that we have given up so much of that glory to the state. Ephesians 1:22 and 23 states: "And hath put all things under His feet, and gave him to be the head over all things to the Church, which is His body, the fulness of him which filleth all in all." The covenant is not something to be divided up with some parts going to the state and some to the Church. The Church, like Israel, is the fulness of his body.

The second point was that in applying the law through the state, you were assuming that the penal sanctions were moral provisions of the law, rather than primarily liturgical-ceremonial responses to law breaking. In support of this point, I offered the passage about the red heifer. Your response was to say that justice was also a motivation behind the sanctions, and I don't disagree with that, but as I have outlined above, and as I think Paul says bluntly in Romans 12, justice in that sense, is not an option available to Christians.

And now the third point is that the place where we stand in the narrative of redemption does and must have an effect on how we as Christians interpret and apply the law. We cannot approach the law pretending that we are Israelites gathered around Mt Sinai and that nothing has really changed. Forgiveness changes everything! If we fail to appreciate that, I'm afraid that we, like the unmerciful servant, will use the law to our own peril.

Thanks for a challenging discussion. Perhaps we will have the opportunity to pick it up again on another thread and from another angle.

God's peace.

Unknown said...


I have more to say on the angel issue, as well. However, since this thread is dead, perhaps we can pick up the conversation elsewhere in the future.

God Bless.