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“What does the Bible say about war?”

Answer:Many people make the mistake of reading what the Bible says inExodus 20:13, “You shall not kill,” and then seeking to apply this command to war. However, the Hebrew word literally means “the intentional, premeditated killing of another person with malice; murder.” God often ordered the Israelites to go to war with other nations (1 Samuel 15:3;Joshua 4:13). God ordered the death penalty for numerous crimes (Exodus 21:12,15;22:19;Leviticus 20:11). So, God is not againstkillingin all circumstances, but only murder. War is never a good thing, but sometimes it is a necessary thing. In a world filled with sinful people (Romans 3:10-18), war is inevitable. Sometimes the only way to keep sinful people from doing great harm to the innocent is by going to war.

In the Old Testament, God ordered the Israelites to “take vengeance on the Midianites for the Israelites” (Numbers 31:2).Deuteronomy 20:16-17declares, “However, in the cities of the nations the LORD your God is giving you as an inheritance, do not leave alive anything that breathes. Completely destroy them…as the LORD your God has commanded you.” Also,1 Samuel 15:18says, “Go and completely destroy those wicked people, the Amalekites; make war on them until you have wiped them out.” Obviously God is not against all war. Jesus is always in perfect agreement with the Father (John 10:30), so we cannot argue that war was only God’s will in the Old Testament. God does not change (Malachi 3:6;James 1:17).

Jesus’ second coming will be exceedingly violent.Revelation 19:11-21describes the ultimate war with Christ, the conquering commander who judges and makes war “with justice” (v. 11). It’s going to be bloody (v. 13) and gory. The birds will eat the flesh of all those who oppose Him (v. 17-18). He has no compassion upon His enemies, whom He will conquer completely and consign to a “fiery lake of burning sulfur” (v. 20).

It is an error to say that God never supports a war. Jesus is not a pacifist. In a world filled with evil people, sometimes war is necessary to prevent even greater evil. If Hitler had not been defeated by World War II, how many more millions would have been killed? If the American Civil War had not been fought, how much longer would African-Americans have had to suffers slaves.


War is a terrible thing. Some wars are more “just” than others, but war is always the result of sin (Romans 3:10-18). At the same time,Ecclesiastes 3:8declares, “There is…a time to love and a time to hate, a time for war and a time for peace.” In a world filled with sin, hatred, and evil (Romans 3:10-18), war is inevitable. Christians should not desire war, but neither are Christians to oppose the government God has placed in authority over them (Romans 13:1-4;1 Peter 2:17). The most important thing we can be doing in a time of war is to be praying for godly wisdom for our leaders, praying for the safety of our military, praying for quick resolution to conflicts, and praying for a minimum of casualties among civilians on both sides (Philippians 4:6-7).

What does the Bible say about killing in war? Is killing in war a sin?

There are many wars mentioned in the Bible. Wars of conquest (Joshua 1:6), civil wars (2 Samuel 3:1), and even a war in heaven (Revelation 12:7). Of course, wars involve killing; there is no way around it. We know that murder is sin (Exodus 20:13). But what about the killing of an enemy combatant during wartime?

First, we know that notallkilling in wartime is a sin because there have been times when God Himself commanded battles to be fought. God told the ancient Israelites to possess the Promised Land; in fact, just before the conquest, the Lord appeared to Joshua as “commander of the army of the Lord”—a man of war (Joshua 5:14). God laid out the battle plans for the fight against Ai (Joshua 8:1–2). God told King Saul to “go, attack the Amalekites and totally destroy all that belongs to them” (1 Samuel 15:3). King David defeated the Philistines by following God’s strategy concerning the battle (2 Samuel 5:23–25). God never tells people to sin, so the Israelites who followed God’s commands to wage war were not sinning. Killing in war cannot be equated with murder.

This is not to say that killing in war has no effects. David wanted badly to build the temple in Jerusalem, but God did not let him. The Lord wanted a man of peace to build the temple, and David’s history had been anything but peaceful. God said to David, “You are not to build a house for my Name, because you are a warrior and have shed blood” (1 Chronicles 28:3).

There is no theocracy today. No nation has a command from God to wage war, and God is not handing out battle plans as He did to Joshua, Saul, and David. Yet wars continue to be fought. It is part a fallen world’s existence. The Bible never condemns the actions of a soldier following orders on a battlefield. In fact, the New Testament has examples of soldiers who had faith in God—Jesus commended a centurion’s faith inMatthew 8:10; and another centurion, Cornelius, was saved inActs 10. These men of war were not rebuked for performing the duties of a centurion, nor were they told they must change professions.

Most tellingly, some soldiers came to John the Baptist as he was baptizing in the Jordan River. The soldiers asked John, “What should we do?” This would have been the perfect opportunity for John to tell them to stop engaging in warfare, stop killing, or stop being soldiers. Instead, John replied, “Don’t extort money and don’t accuse people falsely—be content with your pay” (Luke 3:14). Being a soldier is not inherently sinful.

Paul uses the soldier life as an illustration of spiritual truth (see1 Corinthians 9:7and2 Timothy 2:3). Other references mention battles and warfare (see2 Corinthians 10:4and1 Timothy 1:18).Ephesians 6contains an extended comparison of the Christian life and warfare (verses 10–17). If being a soldier (and doing the things soldiers are required to do) were sinful, it is unlikely the Holy Spirit would have used soldiering as a metaphor for anything good.

Throughout the Bible, warfare is presented as a grim reality in a cursed world. There are forces of evil that must be stopped, and bloodshed is sometimes the result. Whether a Christian should serve in the military is a matter of one’s own conscience, but killing an armed combatant in the context of warfare is not sinful in itself. There is a time and season for everything, including war (Ecclesiastes 3:8).