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War, the Bible, and the State

By P. Andrew Sandlin
May 01, 2000

That the Jehovah God is inherently opposed to war is a pacifist fiction. Israel's wars of extermination, outlined vividly in the Old Testament, refute the suggestion that God is opposed to war at all times and under all conditions. It is essential, however, to understand the objective of and context within which those wars were to be waged. In a unique dispensation, God granted Israel the land of Canaan. The tribes and nations occupying it at the time were blatantly heathen, and their sins were particularly repellant (Dt. 9:1-5). Israel as God's covenant people were called to expel these nations from a land rightfully Israel's own. In essence, they were defending their own property.

War and the State
This is a key element in the Biblical justification for war, and it relates directly to the Biblical role of the state. According to the Bible, the state is a legitimate institution, but its scope is severely limited. In Romans 13, St. Paul makes clear that it exists to punish external evildoers. By what standard? By the standard of God's written law.1 In large measure, this reduces to a defense of what the early Americans considered that great trio of "rights," life, liberty, and property. It employs the force of coercion to protect against murder, rape, pillage, kidnapping, and so forth. It does not exist to redistribute wealth. It does not exist to furnish education. It does not exist to guarantee medical and retirement benefits or any "social security." In fact, according to the Bible, the state is a greatly decentralized institution, growing out of the family (Dt. 1:13-17). Local magistrates are charged with "keeping the peace," and families authorize their role. In modern terms, we may say that the strongest politician in the country should be your local sheriff. His sole job is to suppress external evildoing — defined according to Biblical law.

Protection from Foreign Invasion
But if he is called to protect life, liberty, and property, he must protect it not only from domestic offenders, but also from alien offenders — foreign invasion. The Biblical state protects against tyranny from within (crime) and tyranny from without (invasion). There is no Biblical justification for war except to protect against tyranny from without — invasion. This means, in modern terms, that the state must be a "dove" when contemplating the invasion of any other nation's borders and a "hawk" when protecting its own border.

The Tyranny of the "Nation-State"
The fundamental flaw of almost all modern ideas of war is that they are undergirded by a fallacious view of the state. Today the state is almost always seen in terms of the "nation-state." It is a mammoth, maternalistic entity depicting itself in virtual organic terms (this began in earnest during the European nationalism of the nineteenth century). In blatant violation of God's law, the modern state extorts an excess of property from its citizens in the form of taxation, conscripts its citizens to fight illegitimate wars, and employs coercion to guarantee its own bloated bureaucracy (1 Sam. 8). The modern state is really nothing more than a legalized cartel. These legalized cartels — whether fascist, communist, Nazi, or Western "democratic" - have developed a habit of bullying their wishes on other nations. This is the cause of the vast majority of wars in human history though, in the last 200 years, this cause has been dressed up by appeal to certain ideologies, "defending human rights," "preventing ethnic cleansing," and so on. Hitler's totalitarian perversion was more straightforward — we Aryan racists need more land. Stalin's justification for his totalitarian perversion was more high-sounding though no less horrifying: we must free the world's workers from capitalistic exploitation. Hitler and Stalin were both monsters at the head of legalized cartels, though Stalin was by far the more destructive of the two. Western democrats more readily accept justification for murder under the guise of protection against capitalist exploitation than murder under the guise of protection against polluting the master race's gene pool. Both are godless and abhorrent, though Western democrats are more inclined to accept godlessness and abhorrence when it salves their envy and hatred for the accumulation of property, rather than their envy and hatred of some other race. The recent American wars against Iraq and Serbia are not materially different from Hitler's invasion of Poland and Stalin's invasion of Eastern Europe. All three employed the power of coercion — of a legalized cartel — to impose its will on another nation. Both Saddam Hussan and Slobodan Milosevic are in fact little tin-pot dictators who routinely deprive their citizens of life, liberty, and property — as all legalized cartels tend to do. But the American bombing missions did not solve this problem — it only deprived many more people of life, liberty, and property.

Godless, totalitarian regimes like those in Islamic nations and communist China can be gradually overcome by the methods Christians employed in overcoming the godless totalitarian regime known as the Roman Empire — self-government, personal godliness, covenant faithfulness, and patient perseverance under the lash of persecution.2 The Bible does not permit bombing missions, legalized murder, and the incineration of innocent civilians as an instrument to overturn the tyranny of evil regimes.

This general Christian approach toward war is the heritage of America's Old Right (conservatives). Murray Rothbard notes:

The Old Right applied its aversion to [civil] government to foreign policy as well as domestic. It held the increasing interventions of the American government in the affairs of other nations to be illegitimate, and even imperialist, intrusions that benefited neither the American people nor the world as a whole.3

Most pre-World War II conservatives were known as "isolationists" (really they should have been called "non-interventionists"), for, as Rothbard observes, they feared both the domestic and foreign intrusions of civil government. Most of today's conservatives have abandoned their great Christian heritage, and have adopted the rabid military internationalism of William F. Buckley, National Review, George W. Bush, Bob Dole, John McCain, and other establishment Republicans. All these have joined the international militarists on the Left (i.e., Bill Clinton, Al Gore, and Bill Bradley) and the great collaboration of America's legalized military cartel. Power tends to corrupt, asserted Lord Acton, that great defender of Christian liberty, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Power in the hands of a legalized cartel is dangerous indeed - particularly when it is devoted to murder, pillage, and holocaust in foreign nations.

The only possible solution is a return to Biblical Christianity and its program of overcoming sin by peaceful change: the glorious gospel of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, self-government, and godly families and churches, and a free market undergirded by moral premises.

Notes

1. Rousas John Rushdoony, The Institutes of Biblical Law (no loc., 1973).

2. Ethelbert Stauffer, Christ and the Caesars (London, 1955).

3. Murray N. Rothbard, "The Foreign Policy of the Old Right," Journal of Libertarian Studies, Vol. 2, No. 1, 85.


Topics: Biblical Commentary, Biblical Law, Old Testament History

P. Andrew Sandlin

P. Andrew Sandlin is a Christian minister, theologian, and author.  He is the founder and president of the Center for Cultural Leadership in Coulterville, California.  He was formerly president of the National Reform Association and executive vice president of the Chalcedon Foundation.  He is a minister in the Fellowship of Mere Christianity.. He was formerly a pastor at Church of the Word in Painesville, Ohio (1984-1995) and Cornerstone Bible Church in Scotts Valley, California (2004-2014).

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