Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Just War Theory: Biblical or Man-made?

     Just war theory (or Bellum iustum) has been defined as a doctrine of military ethics of Roman philosophical and Catholic origin. It has been studied for centuries by theologians and politicians alike. It has specifically been the dominant theory or justification for Christians throughout history to support, initiate, and participate in war.
     Before Emperor Constantine instituted Christianity as the "national religion" of the Roman Empire in roughly 313 A.D., the majority of Christians' held a  nonviolent stance. Many early church fathers interpreted the teachings of Jesus as advocating nonviolence. Several church fathers may be cited such as: Saint Maximilian, St. Martin of Tours, Athanasius, Cyprian, Clement of Alexandria, and another with the famous quote " Christ, in disarming Peter, disarmed every soldier."--Tertullian. After Constantine made Christianity the religion of the Empire, virtually requiring citizens to become a Christian or face execution, war and violence become much more accepted as a practice by Christians. How was this justified and how do Christians justify war today? Predominately the Just War Theory. This theory was supported by church fathers such as, Saints Augustine and Aquinas. The theory normally lists 7 principles or criteria for determining whether or not a war is just or not. If the war meets these criteria, it is pronounced "just" and permissible to initiate or be participated in by Christians.
     The seven criteria generally go as follows:

 Just cause
The reason for going to war needs to be just and cannot therefore be solely for recapturing things taken or punishing people who have done wrong; innocent life must be in imminent danger and intervention must be to protect life. A contemporary view of just cause was expressed in 1993 when the US Catholic Conference said: "Force may be used only to correct a grave, public evil, i.e., aggression or massive violation of the basic human rights of whole populations."
Comparative justice
While there may be rights and wrongs on all sides of a conflict, to overcome the presumption against the use of force, the injustice suffered by one party must significantly outweigh that suffered by the other. Some theorists such as Brian Orend omit this term, seeing it as fertile ground for exploitation by bellicose regimes.
Competent authority
Only duly constituted public authorities may wage war. "A just war must be initiated by a political authority within a political system that allows distinctions of justice. Dictatorships (e.g. Hitler's Regime) or deceptive military actions (e.g. the 1968 US bombing of Cambodia) are typically considered as violations of this criterion. The importance of this condition is key. Plainly, we cannot have a genuine process of judging a just war within a system that represses the process of genuine justice. A just war must be initiated by a political authority within a political system that allows distinctions of justice".
Right intention
Force may be used only in a truly just cause and solely for that purpose—correcting a suffered wrong is considered a right intention, while material gain or maintaining economies is not.
Probability of success
Arms may not be used in a futile cause or in a case where disproportionate measures are required to achieve success;
Last resort
Force may be used only after all peaceful and viable alternatives have been seriously tried and exhausted or are clearly not practical. It may be clear that the other side is using negotiations as a delaying tactic and will not make meaningful concessions.
The anticipated benefits of waging a war must be proportionate to its expected evils or harms. This principle is also known as the principle of macro-proportionality, so as to distinguish it from the jus in bello principle of proportionality.
There are several variations in the definitions or criteria but this is generally accepted as the 7 criteria.
I'm not going to insert my opinion on this matter in this post. Rather I want to throw this out there and see what opinions I get. My challenge is this: If this is the generally accepted justification for Christians to participate in war, should we not be able to find Biblical validation for it? Should we not be able to find verses in the Bible supporting these 7 criteria? If so, then we may pronounce such a theory as biblical. If not, should we base our life, spiritual beliefs, and actions off of a man-made theory?
If all this rambling has done is get your wheels turning, start a conversation, help you to question or strengthen your beliefs and values than I have done what I set out to do.
I look forward to hearing what you all have to say.


  1. Yup, It is really a good thing to think about.
    This is a very general statement and I am NOT saying it applies in every case and I couldn't tell a person God wold never tell them to kill another, but the way I look at it is...you kill one of two people, and nether seem to go with the bible, ether you kill a brother in Christ, or you kill a non believer and he goes to hell...nether seem to go! (maybe I am missing a type?)
    Our family went though the book "The Kingdom That Turned The World Upside Down" and boy, it about turned our family upside down! (for the good I think though)
    I think you would really think that book was interesting Matt, he talks about all those points and made an undeniable biblical stand for, well I guess I can't give it away. He also talked about what your last post was about.

    1. I agree ! Obviously according to the Bible, Christians are part of the "kingdom of God". If a Christian were to kill another it would clearly be against the scriptures...remember Jesus said " a house divided against itself will fall". As far as a Christian killing a non-christian that is what the Just War Theory has primarily been used to justify historically.(Even though it is also used for Christian on Christian killing as well). My challenge to readers, to myself, and to friends, is to question and put to the test this theory, to see if it really is a Biblical theology or a man-made theory?
      As to your reference of the book, The Kingdom That Turned the World Upside Down, I have read it(within the last couple of months) and I agree with most of his conclusions. I would also highly recommend it to others. thanks for the insight !

  2. Very thought provoking, Matt. I have always wondered how the wars and battle's fought by the Israelites and the wars we fight today are seen in God's eyes. Granted the wars wages by the Israelites were a direct command of God for the establishment of his chosen nation, but does this "God given directive" apply to today's battles, no matter how "just" and "good" there cause may be? Quite often, "Christians" (I say that because some people (or nations) who claim to be "Christian" just plain aren't) tend to feel that if their intentions behind their actions are "good enough" then we simply assume that God agrees with us or pleased, even though they really have no Biblical authority behind them. I can't necessarily give my opinion on this matter because, to be honest, I haven't really researched it enough to formulate one, but this has definitely made me think and I appreciate your insight.

    1. Amen brother! This subject has cut very close to my heart as you may well assume because of my current occupation. I find it particularly interesting that being as the Just War Theory has been the primary justification Christians have used historically and the very reasoning I have used to justify my choice to become a soldier, how little/if any biblical backing there actually is for it. Again, my challenge is for us as a people to determine whether or not the Bible really does support this belief or not? As with any other position, abortion, marraige, etc our beliefs should be backed up by the Bible. Thanks for your insight.

  3. What, then, do we do about Cornelius?

    1. I assume by Cornelius you are referring to the centurion who was converted in Acts chapter 10. What do we do about him ? I believe all we should do is accept the story for what it says. The story in Acts 10 is clearly about the first gentile (non-Jew) who was saved. Peter speaks about how the Lord showed him that the gift of salvation was not only for Jews but for the whole world.
      I can only assume that you are insinuating that because the Bible does not condemn Cornelius for being a soldier, that this justifies war or violence. I would reply by saying that the Bible says nothing about a lot of things in his life. As a Centurion Cornelius would have owned slaves, given an oath to Caesar as a God, and worshiped the many other Roman god's. Does the Bible by its silence about the rest of Cornelius's life, support these activities as well? I think not ! As a final thought I'd like to bring us back to the topic of Just War. This story in Acts is about the conversion of a gentile to faith in Jesus. It does not speak of this mans life after conversion. It certainly was not meant to by its silence on his occupation, support the Just War theory.

  4. The Just War Theory is the ultimate example of a Christian cop-out and capitulation to power. How convenient for a Christian emperor.

    I would ask Christians to consider the proposition from an opposite viewpoint. Can anyone tell me of a war which Christians enjoined and which, on later reflection, was later seen to be an unjust war in spite of just war claims at the time - AND the Christian church as the Body of Christ apologised for its attitude and practised repentance?

    If no one can come up with a case, then I would take this to mean that we Christians consider ourselves infallible in our ability to comprehend just wars from the onset of hostilities and assess them correctly as just right through to the conclusion of such wars.

    As for the case of Cornelius - he may have been the first in the Christian context but certainly not the last. I offer the response of George Fox to William Penn when Penn asked Fox about the sword he wore. Fox's reply was "Wear it as long as thou canst." For further thoughts on such a statement as this please go to http://www.neym.org/NewEnglandFriend/NEFriend_Winter08.pdf