In attempting to address the primary question posed by this article, we will first consider whether or not the Bible is consistent in its teaching about personal pacifism and then we will consider whether or not the Bible advocates group pacifism.

Personal Pacifism

Exodus 21:23-25, Leviticus 24:20, and Deuteronomy 19:21 teach that it is appropriate to demand an eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth when someone physically harms another person.  These scriptures indicate that the punishment should be commensurate with the degree of physical harm that was done.   In contrast, Jesus Christ teaches in Matthew 5:38-39 and Luke 6:29 that a person should not retaliate when someone strikes them.  Thus, there seems to be a major difference between the Old Testament and the New Testament regarding the matter of retaliation.  Can this difference be satisfactorily reconciled?

With regard to the Law of Retaliation given in Exodus 21:23-25, The Wycliffe Bible Commentary states that the purpose of this law was “to check the passionate vengeance that for a slight injury often retaliated with death and destruction.”  In other words, this law was to limit the extent of the retaliation, by making the punishment fit the crime. Furthermore, the Law of Retaliation was not intended to permit people to take personal revenge.  Instead, this law was primarily intended to provide guidance for the administration of justice by the government of the Hebrew nation.

Thus, even during Old Testament times, there was a limit to the extent of the retaliation.  Furthermore, God states in Leviticus 19:18, “You shall not take vengeance, nor bear any grudge against the children of your people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself   . . . .”

[Note:  When we quote Scripture in this article, we use the wording in the New King James Version of the Bible, except when we are quoting a source that uses a different translation.]

With regard to Matthew 5:38-42, The Wycliffe Bible Commentary notes that Jesus Christ is telling people “how they should respond to personal injury.  (He is not discussing government’s obligation to maintain order.)”  In this scripture, Jesus is attempting to teach the people to follow His example of returning good for evil.  Therefore, to at least some extent, Jesus was taking the Old Testament teachings to a higher level – a level of love and forgiveness, rather than justice and punishment.

Romans 12:17a and 21 also pertain to how to respond to evil acts committed by others.  This scripture states, “Repay no one evil for evil. . . . Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.”

Group Pacifism

Matthew 26:51-52 provides an account of an incident in which Jesus Christ tells His Disciple Peter to put away the sword that Peter had drawn when the Roman soldiers came to arrest Jesus in the garden of Gethsemane.  What Jesus said to Peter may have also served as an admonishment to the other 10 Disciples who were with Jesus, since otherwise they may have joined Peter in defense against the Roman soldiers.

Although what Jesus said in Matthew 26:51-52 could be interpreted as a rebuke regarding the use of force, Norman Geisler, Ph.D., and Howe, M.A., on page 360 of their book entitled When Critics Ask, express their belief that Jesus was not advocating pacifism.

Gleason L. Archer, on page 341 of his book entitled Encyclopedia of Bible Difficulties, expresses a similar point of view.  And, on page 342 of his book, Archer discusses Matthew 5:39, which is another scripture that pacifists use to support their position.  In this scripture, Jesus states, “I tell you not to resist an evil person.”  Archer concludes,

If Matthew 5:39 applied to the state and to human government, then the principle of “Resist not evil” would mean the abolition of all law enforcement.  There would neither be police officers nor judges nor prisons of any kind.  All society would immediately fall prey to the lawless and criminal elements in society, and the result would be total anarchy.  Nothing could have been further from Christ’s mind than such Satan-glorifying savagery and brutality.

Subsequently, on page 219 of the same book, Archer makes the following argument:

 Is it really a manifestation of goodness to furnish no opposition to evil?

No policy would give freer rein to wickedness and crime than a complete surrender of the right of self-defense on the part of the law-abiding members of society. . . . It is hard to imagine how any deity could be thought “good’ who would ordain such a policy of supine [i.e., passive] surrender to evil as that advocated by pacifism. . . .

What about Genesis 9:6?  In this scripture, God states, “Whoever sheds man’s blood, by man his blood shall be shed; for in the image of God He made man.”  Matthew Henry’s Commentary asserts in reference to this scripture,

The magistrate must punish murderers . . .: Whoso sheddeth man’s blood, whether upon a sudden provocation or having premeditated it . . ., by man shall his blood be shed, that is, by the magistrate, or whoever is appointed or allowed to be the avenger of blood.  [Note:  Webster’s Dictionary defines a magistrate as “a civil officer empowered to administer the law.”]

What about war?  If God is the God of peace, as Paul states in Romans 15:33, why did God advocate war by the Israelites, as is at least strongly inferred, if not clearly stated, in a number of scriptures in the Old Testament?

And, why did Jesus Christ, Who is called the Prince of Peace in Isaiah 9:6, declare in Matthew 10:34, “Do not think that I came to bring peace on earth.  I did not come to bring peace but a sword”?

On page 118 of his book entitled Alleged Discrepancies of the Bible, John W. Haley, M.A., uses a medical analogy in response to this question.  According to Haley,

[T]he object of [Jesus’] mission was peace, but a result of it would, in many cases, be strife and war.  Often, in securing a valuable end, we cannot avoid certain incidental evils.  The object of the surgeon in amputating a diseased limb is the preservation of life, yet pain, as an incidental evil, follows the stroke of his scalpel.

And, on page 340 of their aforementioned  book, Geisler and Howe assert,

We must distinguish between the purpose of Christ’s coming to earth and the result of it.  His design was to bring peace – peace with God for unbelievers (Phil. 4:7).  However, the immediate consequence of Christ’s coming was to divide those who were for Him and those who were against Him. . . . Christ’s ultimate mission is to bring peace, both to the human heart and to earth.

On page 219 of his previously-cited book, Archer states, “No nation could retain its liberty or preserve the lives of its citizens if it were prevented from maintaining any sort of army for its defense.”

However, some people may argue that the Bible states in the Sixth of the Ten Commandments, which is recorded in Exodus 20:13, that God does not want people to kill anyone.  In this regard, on page 121 of his same book, Archer, like Haley, uses a medical analogy in his following comments:

[M]uch confusion has arisen from the misleading translation of Exodus 20:13 that occurs in most English versions.  The Hebrew original uses a specific word for murder (rasah) in this sixth commandment and should be rendered “You shall not murder” (NASB).  This is no prohibition against capital punishment for capital crimes, since it is not a general term for the taking of life, such as our English word “kill” implies.

[T]here were specific situations when entire communities . . . or entire tribes . . . were to be exterminated by the Israelites in obedience to God’s command.  In each case these offenders had gone so far in degeneracy and moral depravity that their continued presence would result in spreading the dreadful cancer of sin among God’s covenant people.  Just as the wise surgeon removes dangerous cancer from his patient’s body by use of the scalpel, so God employed the Israelites to remove such dangerous malignancies from human society.


In regard to personal pacificism, we believe that the teachings of Jesus Christ should be given top priority, because He is God incarnate and, therefore, He deserves to be given the final word as to how His followers should behave.  Furthermore, Jesus set the perfect example for us, as recorded in Luke 23:34, which indicates that while Jesus was dying on a cross, He asked God to forgive those who were responsible for His crucifixion.

Therefore, as a general rule, Christians should demonstrate love and forgiveness to the people who previously physically abused them or currently are doing so.  This does not mean that Christians should simply allow other people to physically abuse them. In many, if not most, instances of physical abuse, it would be appropriate to contact civil authorities to request their help in dealing with these types of situations. However, in situations that threaten serious physical harm or even death to us, to any members of our family, or perhaps to even a stranger, it may be justifiable to take more drastic action in an attempt to defend ourselves and/or others who are threatened, but only after we have tried unsuccessfully to resolve the matter peacefully.

Although group pacificism may be appropriate in many situations, the federal, state, and/or local government entities of a nation such as ours generally need to take a strong stand in an attempt to protect the welfare of their citizens.  This necessitates having strong and well-disciplined law enforcement at all levels of our government.

Several of Archer’s previous comments about group pacificism are particularly noteworthy.  In reference to state and local governments, he declared that if a government did not have adequate law enforcement, it “would immediately fall prey to the lawless and criminal elements in society, and the result would be total anarchy.”  And, with regard to the federal government, Archer asserted, “No nation could retain its liberty or preserve the lives of its citizens if it were prevented from maintaining any sort of army for its defense.”  These considerations support our believe that it is highly unlikely that God would want our nation to disband any of our government law-enforcement organizations.