Religions in Conflict: From Polemics to Wars (Late Antiquity - 18th Century)
About Programme Abstracts
New Testament Teachings on War, Violence and Military Service

Despina Iosif, London University

Did Jesus approve of humans resorting to violence? Enlisting in the army? And waging and participating in wars? Did the four evangelists understand his messages on war, violence and military service correctly? (If indeed he gave any). And did they write them down in their works to preserve them for posterity? Christians, theologians and (Christian) scholars have tried over the centuries to provide answers to these questions. They have not reached a consensus (far from it) and it is doubtful that they ever will. The bewildering variety of answers proposed has found legitimate support in different passages from the New Testament. The New Testament contains different messages on war, violence and military service (often contradictory to each other), so almost all who appeal to it to justify their positions seem to have a case, even if they hold completely different positions! This confusing picture may indicate that these questions were not poignant nor pressing for Jesus; he was not interested in present realities for he was expecting the end of the world to occur soon. And his immediate followers advanced their own interpretations of his deeds and words as they saw fit. So, the actual words, actions and ideas of Jesus can hardly be reconstructed.

The topic of the legitimacy of Christian participation in warfare has attracted an abundant literature. It was mostly in periods of crisis (or potential crisis) that the problem occupied a prominent place in the minds of many thinkers. They reflected on the Christian responsibilities towards the state and resorted to the Bible to seek guidance or confirmation (if they had already made up their minds). The Two Great Wars particularly brought the question of the morality of violence as an immediate practical problem to the lives of many people. A few years later, when many felt that the world faced possible destruction from atomic bombs, the ethical problem of war and peace reemerged and cried urgently for re-examination.

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2004: Univeristy of Thessaly - Department. of History, Archaeology and Social Anthropology