The Bible and the Warrior

As a military chaplain, I have been thinking hard on what the Bible has to say to the warfighter. I have found that Scripture is replete with instruction, perspective, and guidance for the warrior. Here are a few observations from a paper I have been working on regarding the topic.

Scholars agree, war is no tertiary theme in Scripture.[1] The theme can be viewed from various angles. First, through a biblical-theological lens the drama of redemption is a war story. The serpent’s assault on Eden was an attack on God’s home soil. Satan’s Pearl Harbor incursion is met with a divine declaration of war, a promise that drives the storyline of Scripture.[2] Redemptive history unpacks God the Warrior on an extended military campaign to rescue his people and demolish his enemies. This theme climaxes in the divine warfighter who comes in the flesh, Jesus the serpent-crusher who wins victory through the cross and the empty tomb.[3]

Second, the theme of war can be viewed through the lens of the biblical-historical narratives provided in the Old and New Testament.[4] Scripture bears out the reality that “war was not a peripheral concern in Ancient Israel…it was a normal state in the ancient world in the Near East.”[5] Substantial biblical data speaks to the causes, rationale, strategy and rituals of the wars engaged by ancient Israel.[6] In addition, the New Testament provides data on soldiering in the Roman world and information on the interface of Christianity with the warfighting vocation.[7] Though primarily descriptive, these portions of Scripture shed light on warfighting in scriptural times.

Third, the theme of war can be viewed through a biblical-ethical perspective. Scripture provides explicit and implicit moral guidance to those in the warfighting vocation.[8] This angle explores didactic literature that addresses warriors, draws from model biblical warfighters, and pulls together other relevant scriptural data that informs the profession of arms.[9] Distinct from the descriptive nature of the other two viewpoints, this approach looks to the prescriptive nature of Scripture as it pertains to the warrior.

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[1]“Because of the sheer amount of attention given to war, anyone interested in studying the Bible must deal with this issue. Millar Burrows was correct when he observed years ago that the Bible is concerned with three subjects: religion, agriculture and war.” John Wood, Perspectives on War in the Bible (Macon: Mercer University Press, 1998), 2-3. Charles Trimm, “Recent Research on Warfare in the Old Testament,” Currents in Biblical Research (2011): 1-22.

[2]Gen 3:16; Ex 15:1-12; Is 42:10-13, 59:14-19; Zeph 3:14-20; Col 2:13-15; Heb 2:14-18; 1 Jn 3:8; Rev 12:1-12, 19:11-21.

[3]Tremper Longman III and Daniel G. Reid, God is a Warrior (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1995), 1-27; James Hamilton, “The Skull Crushing Seed of the Woman: Inner-Biblical Interpretation of Genesis 3:15,” The Southern Baptist Journal of Theology 10, no. 2 (2006), 30-54; Phillip Ross Bethancourt, “Christ the Warrior King: A Biblical, Historical and Theological Analysis of the Divine Warrior Theme in Christology,” (PhD dis., Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, 2011), 1-320; Matthew Lynch, “Zion’s Warrior and the Nations: Isaiah 59:15b-63:6 in Isaiah’s Zion Traditions,” The Catholic Biblical Quarterly 70 (2008); Patrick Miller Jr., “God the Warrior: A Problem in Biblical Interpretation and Apologetics,” Interpretation (1965); Scott W. Bullard, “Peace and the Divine Warrior,” Center for Christian Ethics at Baylor University (2004); Susan M. Pigott, “The Kingdom of the Warrior God: The Old Testament and the Kingdom of Yahweh,” Southwestern Journal of Theology 40, no. 2 (1998); Paul Brooks Duff, “The March of the Divine Warrior and the Advent of the Greco Roman King: Mark’s Account of Jesus’ Entry into Jerusalem,” Journal of Biblical Literature 111, no. 1 (1992). Andrew R. Angel, “Crucifixus Vincens: The ‘Son of God’ as Divine Warrior in Matthew,” The Catholic Biblical Quarterly 73 (2011).

[4]Deut 20; Josh 6-8; Jdg 7-8; 1 Sam 4, 15-19; 2 Sam 23:8-39; 1 Chron 11-12.

[5]Wood, Perspectives on War in the Bible, 9.

[6]David Kidner, “Old Testament Perspectives on War,” The Evangelical Quarterly 57, no. 2 (1985), 99-113; Paul D. Hanson, “War and Peace in the Hebrew Bible,” Interpretation 38, no. 4 (1984), 347; Andrew J. Dearman, “The Problem of War in the Old Testament: War, Peace and Justice,” Austin Seminary Bulletin 99 (1983), 7; Marvin E. Tate, “War and Peacemaking in the Old Testament,” Review and Expositor 79, no. 4 (1982), 592-595. Alexander Rofe, “The Laws of Warfare in the Book of Deuteronomy: Their Origins, Intent and Positivity,” Journal for the Study of the Old Testament 32 (1985), 23-44; Vernon S. McCasland, “Soldiers on Service: The Draft among the Hebrews,” Journal of Biblical Literature 62, no. 2 (1943), 61-65; Reuven Firestone, “A Brief History of War in the Hebrew Bible and the Jewish Interpretive Tradition” in Fighting Words: Religion, Violence, and the Interpretation of Sacred Texts, ed. John Renard (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2012), 29-54; Charlie Trimm, Fighting for the King and the Gods: A Survey of Warfare in the Ancient Near East (Atlanta: Society of Biblical Literature, 2017).

[7]Paul Victor Furnish, “War and Peace in the New Testament,” Interpretation 38 (1994), 363-371; J. Punt, “Paul, Military Imagery and Social Disadvantage,” Acta Theologica 23 (2016), 201-224.

[8]Dan Cantey, “Can the Christian Serve in the Military? A Veteran Reflects on the Commensurability of the Christian Life and the Military Ethic,” Journal of the Society of Christian Ethics 32, no. 2 (2012), 39-55; Jonathan E. Shaw, “Moral Warriors: A Contradiction in Terms?” Concordia Theological Quarterly 82 (2018), 247-280; Martin Luther, Christians Can Be Soldiers (Minneapolis: Lutheran Press, 2010), 7-99.

[9]James D. Roecker, “Use of the Davidic Psalms is an Effective Way to Counsel Military Personnel with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder” (MDiv thesis, Wisconsin Luther Seminary, 2015), 3-44.

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