Posted by: alisonwalley | 11 October 2009


We were having a discussion about war at church (in an informal, ‘café’ style setting). Three people put different views about war which have been held by Christians down the centuries. If you’re wondering what this has to do with the main subject of this blog it’s this: people have interpreted the Bible in different ways over this subject, as with many others.

Bible interpretation should be so simple. After all, God gives his people his Holy Spirit to speak to us through his word. And, we’ve got twenty centuries of Bible commentators to guide us in getting in right. Yes but…

The person putting forward the pacifist position pointed out with some passion that Jesus preached peace, didn’t resist violence with force and said his followers should be peacemakers. Jesus is called the Prince of Peace and God opposes violence (we leave aside here some of the Old Testament passages ordering God’s people to destroy other peoples).

Another speaker pointed out that while we should be peacemakers, and shouldn’t use violence, we might need to embrace force in order to preserve peace. The third speaker put the case for ‘just war’.

The case none of them covered was ‘Christian’ people through the ages who have insisted that God was on their side and that they had some kind of divine mandate to wage war. Or ‘Christian’ right-wingers today who insist that it is their God-given right to bear arms and intervene aggressively against those they consider to be in the wrong. Perhaps it seemed obvious to those who prepared the talks that this is definitely not a true Christian position.

But when it comes to Bible interpretation, it’s all too easy to let our cultural prejudices rule the interpretation. So, for instance, those who launched the Crusades were in a culture of expansionism and military might, when to bear arms was a right and proper and honourable thing to do. To them it seemed obvious that a Holy War was the right way to win back the site of Christ’s crucifixion.

I wonder what cultural blinkers we wear that prevent us from interpreting God’s word properly?


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