Was Jesus a Pacifist

I spent 1 year in a Greek monastery and 20 years in the Eastern Orthodox tradition so I will approach your question from their perspective. Some of what I mention dates back to homilies of 5 century (e.g. Chrysostom, Basil, Gregory, Maximos). Jesus is only known for two acts which approach destruction or violence. In the temple Jesus RAISES a whip or staff and threatens the money changers in the Temple, overturning their tables but Jesus does not strike anyone. Jesus sees a fig tree which SEEMS to be ripe and laden with fruit but upon inspection is barren. Jesus says to the tree in the Greek of the New Testament “Xeranthesate” which means “be thou whithered.” Nothing happens to the tree immediately but the next day as they pass by the disciples marvel that the tree is all dried up. Over the centuries theologians attempt to use this story/parable as an example of how a group separated from “the Church” through schism or heresy is like a tree or some other plant whose roots have been deprived of water and sustenance. The plant does not immediately die but only slowly whithers away. (I am doing this from memory, quickly) Now during the betrayal one of the apostles mentions that they have two swords and Jesus says that is sufficient. When Judas and company come to apprehend him Jesus mentions that he has it within his power to summon a legion of angels to his defense but choses not to. I do believe there is one Gospel account where some invisible force briefly knocks over the approaching band but they seem undaunted. I realize I could google on various details but I prefer to see what I can dredge up from my failing memory and google afterward. Now there are other passages I seem to recall where Jesus speaks about doing violence to oneself and seeking the kingdom of heaven by force. Obviously most who speak of non-violence mean violence against other persons and not some metaphoric sense of violence against the self through ascetic practices.

I come not to bring peace, but to bring a sword” (Gospel of Matthew 10:34) http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/But_to_bring_a_sword The Book of Kells, a Celtic illuminated manuscript copy of the Gospels, uses the word “gaudium” meaning “joy” rather than “gladium,” which means “sword” — rendering the verse in translation: “I came not [only] to bring peace, but joy”. It is unknown whether this was an intentional or accidental change.

I am going to point to something which I have always found intriguing which may have bearing upon the question of Jesus’s non-violence. http://bible.cc/john/10-18.htm Therefore doth my Father love me, because I lay down my life, that I might take it again. No one takes it [ my life ] from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down and authority to take it up again. This command I received from my Father.” We may note how surprised the authorities were to learn that Jesus had died after so short a time on the cross and there was no need to break His legs though it was necessary to break the legs of the two thieves so they would die before the beginning of Passover. If we look at John 19:30 it does seem as though Jesus death is a conscious act of will, literally giving up life as a conscious action: When he had received the drink, Jesus said, “It is finished.” With that, he bowed his head and gave up his spirit.

Obviously it is necessary to define what we mean by “pacifist.” Do we mean by “pacifist” only violence done to others or do we mean someone who is “passive” even with regard to doing violence to oneself? Secondly, we must consider what might be prerequisite in some individual or being that would affect their CHOICE between active violent resistance vs. passive suffering. Suppose we examine the traditional notion of a God who is omnipotent, omniscient, omnipresent, is outside of the temporal and even the eternal (which some call pre-eternal) and is outside of space and the causal matrix, a being who is complete and lacks nothing but possesses all imaginable things. What would it mean to say that such a God-being is a pacifist? Now there are some groups which hold that Jesus is theos-anthropos or “God-man” and is in some mystic fashion both finite human AND omnipotent creator. We see hints of this when Jesus passes through locked doors, for example, or one scene where the angry crowd tries to seize Him but he simply vanishes or slips away. In fact if you look at Orthodox icons of the tomb on the morning of the Resurrection you will notice the mummy-like WINDING SHEETS lying on the stone slab in the perfect form of a human body. Of course in those days it is likely that they wrapped the dead just as mummies in ancient Egypt were wrapped. So the MIRACULOUS nature of the resurrection is that the body of Christ seems to pass right THROUGH the winding sheets. And why is it that Christ says “no man kills me but I lay down my life?” Is Christ saying that humans do have the ability to murder Him but he chooses to give up the ghost so that they might be innocent OR does this imply that Jesus is indestructible and if He does not choose to give up the ghost then he would be alive to this very day, hanging upon that cross? These are important questions because it is only meaningful to speak of someone being a pacifist if they have a CHOICE between pacifism and violence. We might argue that every corpse is a pacifist because it lies there and offers no resistance but the foolishness of such an argument is obvious. Now an omnipotent being might choose to be violent or choose to be passive but if that omnipotent being possesses all power and all things (including each person’s life) then how is it meaningful to say that such a being CHOOSES pacifism in the same way that obviously Gandhi or Martin Luther King Jr. choose pacifism. In simple terms, imagine that I am Superman and you and your army have no green kryptonite: what does it mean to say that I, Superman, choose pacifism? In the human realm those who choose pacifism have something on the table. They choose to be beaten or they choose to serve a jail sentence; they have something to lose and something to gain and they make a conscious choice at some window of opportunity and then that window passes and their choice is now irrevocable.

It gets even more complicated as I think about the following: Let us assume that I have a way to irrefutably demonstrate that Jesus Himself is a pacifist BUT suppose I also demonstrate that something Jesus said or taught encouraged others to be violent. Suppose we say that Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr. were pacifists in the conduct of their own life BUT they said or wrote things which inspired others to reject pacifism and resort to violent means to achieve their ends? We have two separate issues. If it should prove to be the case that it is meaningless to speak of a God or a God-Man being a pacifist yet still one may examine the teachings and sayings and determine whether the followers are pacifists or at least aspire to pacifism as a virtue to be cultivated.

@Daniel: Your mention of “for or against war” opens a different but equally interesting “can of worms.” The New Testament clearly indicates that until the last day and the Judgment there shall always be “wars and rumors of war.” Yet the beatitudes of the sermon on the mount say “Blessed are the peace-makers.” War and Poverty are two of the greatest world problems. When Moses forbids the people to glean the fields of every last grain of wheat or ear of corn he adds almost as an afterthought “you must leave the gleanings for the poor people and the hungry animals for THE POOR SHALL ALWAYS BE WITH YOU.” Jesus repeats this same sentiment ALSO as an afterthought when the woman is anointing His feet with precious ointment and the suggestion is made that the ointment be sold and the proceeds given to the poor, and Jesus says ” … for the POOR SHALL ALWAYS BE WITH YOU.” So, if there is some mystical reason or Aristotelian anangke (necessity) why war and poverty must always exist, and yet it is beatific to try to make peace and to comfort the poor though charity…. well you can see the problem with asking whether Jesus was for or against war.

Now, when some soldiers ask Jesus for advice he does not tell them to become conscientious objectors (though we should not feel free to construe this as an ENDORSEMENT for war) but simply says : Luke 3:14 Then some soldiers asked him, “And what should we do?” He replied, “Don’t extort money and don’t accuse people falsely—be content with your pay.” There is some interesting reading at this link http://bible.cc/luke/3-14.htm

Swords to Plowshares is a different tact to take on the question of Jesus’ pacificism. http://bible.cc/isaiah/2-4.htm He will judge between the nations and will settle disputes for many peoples. They will beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks. Nation will not take up sword against nation, nor will they train for war anymore. — This is in conflict with the notion that there shall be wars and rumors of war until the last day UNLESS these passages describe something after the resurrection and not in this earthly life. There are two interesting but obscure reasons why Jesus must be a pacifist. King David was a great warrior (Saul slew his thousands and David his TENS of thousands) BUT David was not fit to build the temple because his hands shed blood. Solomon was never a warrior and had no blood on his hands so he was able to build the temple. The second issue involved the “unblemished sacrifice.” When Abraham is interrupted in the act of sacrifice and shown a male ram caught by THE HORNS in a thorn bush, and told to sacrifice the ram instead, the ram is a type for Christ as the sacrifice. IF the ram had been caught by the fleece then he would have been injured and a damaged animal is unfit for sacrifice. We notice that when God gives Satan leave to tempt Job, Satan is allowed to afflict his body with sores but must spare Job’s life. When Satan tempts Jesus in the wilderness there is no bodily harm or illness inflicted because Jesus must remain unblemished. A Greek Orthodox priest who accidentally killed someone in an automobile accident would be forbidden to every serve another liturgy/mass. Priests are not allowed to hunt or fish or take life in any form. And here is what Aquinas says in the Summa regarding War and the question of clergy doing combat: “Now warlike pursuits are altogether incompatible with the duties of a bishop and a cleric, for two reasons. The first reason is a general one, because, to wit, warlike pursuits are full of unrest, so that they hinder the mind very much from the contemplation of Divine things, the praise of God, and prayers for the people, which belong to the duties of a cleric. Wherefore just as commercial enterprises are forbidden to clerics, because they unsettle the mind too much, so too are warlike pursuits, according to 2 Tim. 2:4: “No man being a soldier to God, entangleth himself with secular business.” The second reason is a special one, because, to wit, all the clerical Orders are directed to the ministry of the altar, on which the Passion of Christ is represented sacramentally, according to 1 Cor. 11:26: “As often as you shall eat this bread, and drink the chalice, you shall show the death of the Lord, until He come.” Wherefore it is unbecoming for them to slay or shed blood, and it is more fitting that they should be ready to shed their own blood for Christ, so as to imitate in deed what they portray in their ministry. For this reason it has been decreed that those who shed blood, even without sin, become irregular. Now no man who has a certain duty to perform, can lawfully do that which renders him unfit for that duty. Wherefore it is altogether unlawful for clerics to fight, because war is directed to the shedding of blood.” — But both for the Orthodox and the Roman Catholics a priest or bishop symbolically becomes both sacrificer and the sacrifice. The Bhagavad Gita has a similar notion saying “I am the priest who sacrifices and I am the ghee (butter) which is sacrificed and I am the fire which consumes the sacrifice.”


@Steve, Paul talks about “unseen warfare” ; For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but…against spiritual wickedness in high places. (Eph. 6:12) ; which led to writings such as these among Greek and Russian monks http://www.roca.org/OA/5/5d.htm ; When the Israelites battle with the Amalekites they are victorious as long as Moses keeps his arms raised in the sign of a cross. Whenever Moses tires and lowers his arms then the Amalekites gain advantage. So, Aaron (whose name starts with Alpha) holds up one arm and in KJV a man name Ur holds up the other arm. BUT, in the Greek Septuagint Ur is spelled with an OMEGA (Or)… and so we see the Amelekites (symbolic of sins and temptations) being defeated by Moses assuming the sign of the cross between the Alpha and Omega (and the allusion to the Book of Revelation is obvious ; “I am the Alpha and Omega”)

For me the question of Jesus’s pacifism becomes most interesting when we consider the actions of nations and politicians who on the surface claim to be “Bible based” from the founding fathers to the present. It is difficult to ignore Jesus words about “turning the other cheek” and repaying evil with kindness. We know that the Yale secret society Skull and Bones has given American many leading figures in politics and other fields INCLUDING G.H.W. Bush (father) and G.W. Bush (son) as well as people like Wm. F. Buckley Jr. We know that Skull and Bones is a secret society which has secret rituals which would most likely be considered pagan and unsuitable for a Christian. So, one day, the young G.W. Bush is strolling the beach with Rev. Billy Graham and Graham suddenly asks “Are you right with God?” George answers “No, but I want to be.” Now comes the horror of the 9/11 twin towers attack. I sometimes ask myself what Jesus would have done. Would Jesus have taken a bull-horn and said “we shall smoke them out of their caves?” Some young men heard Pres. Bush that day and volunteered for military service. One young man never even got to fire a shot. All he saw were women and children running and then he was injured and returned home a paraplegic for life. Now I am not so naïve as to think that war or violence should never be an option. But I do ask myself WHAT things might be like today if America had been more Christ-like and turned the other cheek. We know that bin Laden is still at large so we never did smoke them out of the caves. In my mind Gandhi was the most Christ-like in his life of nonviolence (yet Gandhi explicitly rejects Christianity as his personal religion in his autobiography “Experiments in Truth”) and yet Gandhi’s tactics would not have dealt successfully with Hitler. Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. comes in 2nd in my mind for Christ-like non-violence, discarding his weapons at home when he knew of death threats, and then taking an unpopular stance against Vietnam and losing whatever support he had from Lyndon Johnson. By comparison Rev. Billy Graham looks weak because he was a sycophant to Presidents from Truman on, a yes man to Nixon humoring Nixon with Antisemitic remarks on the secret Oval office tapes. And when civil rights protesters were agitating, Billy Graham told them to hush up and behave. I think the MORE interesting question to ask is not how pacifist Christ was but rather how Christ-like were the followers and world leaders who paid lip service to the teachings of Christ to garner political power and hegemony.


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