posted Jun 3, 2012, 7:03 PM by Hector Falcon
One of the common questions that comes up when discussing Christian ethical issues is the question of war and whether it is alright for Christians to participate in them. Generally, the answer is yes. The civil government has been established by God with certain duties, one of which is to provide a defense for the people against aggressive enemies that would enslave or kill the people. This would be considered self-defense. The Old Testament is full of examples in which the people of Israel found in necessary to go to war in order to protect themselves. With regard to the New Testament, once people became Christians, they were not asked to leave their profession if it involved acting as a soldier for the Roman Empire. Cornelius comes to mind as an example.

However, sometimes it may be necessary that Christians choose not to participate in a war that they believe to be unjust. There are a myriad of factors that come into play when analyzing this question for each individual. Therefore, it is not always easy to give a black and white answer in this issue, especially when individual consciences are involved. General principles can be derived from the Bible. However, there are almost an infinite number of ways that the issue can be drawn out, especially when the conscience of an individual is involved. To discuss all the various theories of just war could take up the room of several written volumes. We will instead direct the reader to resources where they can pursue this topic in greater detail.

JustWar Principles 
GTS 13:45Ken Gentry

In keeping with the peaceableintentions of the Christian faith, Just War Theory posits the followingprinciples:

(1) ThePrinciple of Just Cause. Ajust war can only be fought to redress a grievous wrong suffered and must beengaged with a view to redressing that injury. The right to personalself-defense is always just. We see this legally stated on the personal levelin God’s Law: "If the thief is caught while breaking in, and is struck sothat he dies, there will be no blood guiltiness on his account" (Exo. 22:2).We see it on the social level in granting the magistrate the right to capitalpunishment for prescribed crimes: "He who strikes a man sothat he dies shall surely be put to death" (Exo.21:12).

God condemns "princes [who] arelike wolves tearing the prey, by shedding blood and destroying lives in orderto get dishonest gain" (Eze. 22:27). The encoding of legislation inthe Law regarding national armies takes the right to self defense from thepersonal and local levels to the national level: "Then Amalek came and fought against Israel at Rephidim. So Mosessaid to Joshua, ‘Choose men for us, and go out, fight against Amalek’"(Exo. 17:8-9; cp. 1 Sam. 30:3, 18-19). The blessings of God include victoryagainst the enemy who assails: "The Lord will cause your enemies who riseup against you to be defeated before you; they shall come out against you oneway and shall flee before you seven ways" (Deut. 28:7). Even the NewTestament commends just war by placing in the "Hall of Faith" thosewho "became mighty in war, put foreign armies to flight" (Heb. 11:34).

(2) ThePrinciple of Last Resort. Inmatters of national relations where tensions are raised, Just War Theory seeksto insure peace and safety. Therefore, just war can only be waged as a lastresort requiring that all reasonable non-violent options must be exhaustedbefore the use of force can be justified. Even regarding cities that threatenedIsrael we read: "When thou comest nigh unto a city to fight against it,then proclaim peace unto it. And it shall be, if it make thee answer of peace,and open unto thee, then it shall be, that all the people that is found thereinshall be tributaries unto thee, and they shall serve thee. And if it will makeno peace with thee, but will make war against thee, then thou shalt besiegeit" (Deut. 20:10-12).[1]

(3) ThePrinciple of Legitimate Authority. Awar is just only if it is waged by a legitimate authority. Vigilante justiceand gang warfare are not God-ordained means of social conduct. In fact, theseare debilitating features of social chaos evidencing the breakdown of moralorder. Even just causes require just means of resolution. To plan war is toplan death, which requires duly sanctioned moral authority. This is possessedonly by the civil magistrate who is ordained to wield the sword in providingfor the defense of its citizenry.

According to Romans 12:19 vengeancebelongs to God who will repay the evildoer (Rom. 12:19). Just three verses later Paul begins pointingout that God has given the right to avenge wrongdoing to the civil magistratewho is the "minister of God" in this respect (Rom. 13:1-4)."Governors [are] sent by him for the punishment of evildoers and thepraise of those who do right" (1 Peter 2:14), which includes punishment ofwhole nations that threaten evil against another nation.

(4) ThePrinciple of Successful Prospect. Awar can only be just if it is fought with a reasonable chance of success. Humanlife is precious, in that man is created in the image of God (Gen. 1:26-27). God has a special concern for man, hishighest creature: "What is man, that Thou dost take thought of him? Andthe son of man, that Thou dost care for him?" (Psa. 8:4). God ordains the protection of human life: "Whoever shedsman’s blood by man his blood shall be shed, for in the image of God He mademan" (Gen. 9:6). This, of course, prohibits suicide, even at the nationallevel.

In a parable, Jesus touches on thisprinciple of war: "Or what king, when he sets out to meet another king inbattle, will not first sit down and take counsel whether he is strong enoughwith ten thousand men to encounter the one coming against him with twentythousand?" (Luke 14:31). David expresses such a concernregarding the prospect of utter defeat: "David inquired of the Lord,saying, ‘Shall I pursue this band? Shall I overtake them?’ And He said to him,‘Pursue, for you shall surely overtake them, and you shall surely rescueall’" (1 Sam. 30:8). The righteous seek safety, not destruction: "MyGod, my rock, in whom I take refuge; my shield and the horn of my salvation, mystronghold and my refuge; my savior, thou dost save me from violence. . . I amsaved from my enemies" (2 Sam. 22:3-4). Consequently, wide scale deathsand injury incurred in a hopeless cause are not morally justifiable, being aform of national suicide.

(5) ThePrinciple of Peaceful Objectives. Theultimate goal of a just war is to re-establish peace and safety. The historicalgoal of the kingdom of God clearly teaches this primary historical objective:"He will judge between the nations and will render decisions for manypeoples; and they will hammer their swords into plowshares, and their spearsinto pruning hooks. Nation will not lift up sword against nation, and neveragain will they learn war" (Isa. 2:4). As a counter example, Islam as areligion and culture has from its founding in Muhammad until the present beenin a constant state of war with other cultures.

The just war goal of securing peaceembodies the biblical principle that we should "not be overcome by evil,but overcome evil with good" (Rom. 12:21). David, though a "man ofwar" (1 Chron. 28:3), exhibits his righteous desire for peace: "Toolong has my soul had its dwelling with those who hate peace. I am for peace,but when I speak, they are for war" (Psa. 120:6-7). Rushdoony observes:"Even in wartime, God’s purpose, the furthering of life for the purposesof godly dominion, must be obeyed." [2]

(6) ThePrinciple of Proportionate Means. Justwar is God-sanctioned violence. But the violence meted out in war must beproportional to the injury suffered. For instance, the laws governing capitalpunishment constrain the state by not allowing the magistrate to capitallypunish a thief (Exo. 22:7) or to put to death the murderer’s family:"Fathers shall not be put to death for their sons, nor shall sons be putto death for their fathers; everyone shall be put to death for his ownsin" (Deut. 24:16). [3] Likewise, the aim of war must be constrained byprinciples of proportionality, according to the lex talionis principle of "an eye for aneye" (Exo. 21:24; Lev. 24:20f).

Rushdoony observes that "totalwar is prohibited, either against man or against his land." [4] Napoleon’sutter humiliation of his enemies led to Prussian military instructor, Karl vonClausewitz, developing the concept of "total war." But God’s Lawforbids total war: "When you besiege a city a long time, to make waragainst it in order to capture it, you shall not destroy its trees by swingingan axe against them; for you may eat from them, and you shall not cut themdown. For is the tree of the field a man, that it should be besieged by you? Onlythe trees which you know are not fruit trees you shall destroy and cut down,that you may construct siegeworks against the city that is making war with youuntil it falls" (Deut. 20:19-20).

(7) ThePrinciple of Civilian Immunity. When just war is engaged the military plansand actions must discriminate between combatants and non-combatants. Unarmedcivilians are never legitimate targets of war, and every reasonable effort mustbe taken to avoid killing them. Civilian deaths are tolerable only as accidental,unavoidable collateral damage resulting from an attack on a legitimate militarytarget.

The Scriptures reflect this principlein various places. Armed combatants are the target of just war: "Let nothim who bends his bow bend it, nor let him rise up in his scale-armor; so donot spare her young men; devote all her army to destruction" (Jer. 51:3)."When the Lord your God gives it into your hand, you shall strike all themen in it with the edge of the sword. Only the women and the children and theanimals and all that is in the city, all its spoil, you shall take as booty foryourself; and you shall use the spoil of your enemies which the Lord your Godhas given you" (Deut. 20:13-14). Again, this embodies theprinciple of man being the image of God and under his protections.


These principles, long maintained inChristian culture and established in biblical law, must guide us in one of themost fearsome powers of government: the right to wage war. God’s Word directsus in all of life, and is especially important in governing that which can endlife and culture.


1.Israel had God-defined borders (Gen. 15:18; Exo.23:31; etc.) and could never legitimately possessimperialistic pretensions. This passage is not dealing with the special,limited Holy War which secured the Promised Land: "Thus you shall do toall the cities that are very far from you, which are not of the cities of thesenations nearby" (Deut. 20:15).
2. R. J. Rushdoony, Institutesof Biblical Law (Vallecito,Calif.: Ross, 1973), 1:355.
3. Those who claim court governed capital punishment is merely revenge encodedin law must recognize severe limits on the offended: they cannot punishment thecriminal immediately (without trial), torture him, punish his family, or doanything beyond the limits of the law. Capital punishment actually curtailspersonal revenge.
4. Rushdoony, Institutes,1:355.