Nonresistance: A Biblical Theology of Violence (Part 1)

Oct 18, 2013

First post: Nonresistance: A Personal Background Previous post: Nonresistance: Setting the Stakes

Rather than diving headlong into a systematic analysis of what the Bible teaches, we’re going to begin this study by taking a broad view of how the Bible’s teachings on violence unfold from the very beginning to the end of time. This will give us the foundation we need to formulate its teachings systematically.

In The Beginning

So follow me, if you will, to the beginning of time - the book of Genesis. Where does violence first enter the world God created?

If you said “Cain and Abel,” you were close. But it turns out that violence goes back even earlier. When Adam and Eve were banished from the Garden of Eden, God placed cherubim with a flaming sword at the gate to protect the tree of life. Violence was established in a very real sense for Adam and Eve as the punishment for transgression.

But that right belonged to God alone. When Cain slew his brother Abel, God set a mark on his head to prevent others from taking revenge. He had not yet given the authority to man to punish wrongdoing with violence. And the antediluvian society reflected this lack of established self-government.

Genesis 6 says that, in those days, “the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.” Humanity was corrupt and plagued with violence, so much so that the Lord “regretted that he had made man.” But there was one man who found favor in God’s sight, and He gave humanity a fresh start. Through Noah, God preserved a remnant of His creation and destroyed the earth with a flood.

Having shown the depths of human depravity in allowing sin to persist before the Flood, God now instituted a new rule to restrain that depravity.

The Dominion Mandate

In Genesis 9, God commands Noah and his family to repopulate the new world. He gives them dominion over everything in the natural world - the beasts, birds, and fish are now a food source. In addition, He establishes a basic system of self-governance:

“Whoever sheds the blood of man,
by man shall his blood be shed,
for God made man in his own image.”
Genesis 9:6 (ESV)

Here God institutes the first death penalty, for the crime of murder. Those who kill another human being are to be executed for their offense, because man is made in the image of God.

It is no coincidence that the first kingdoms began to form not long afterwards. In Genesis 10 we read of Nimrod, a mighty hunter, who started in Babel and went on to build the foundations of the Assyrian empire. Other descendants of Noah and his sons settled in different directions, claiming land and building their own unique governments and cultures.

For some time the record of God’s intervention is silent, as the nations spread and populated the earth and did their own thing. Then He called Abram.


Abram traveled at the Lord’s direction, looking for a place to call home. On his journey, he had to deal with conflict both from the nations he passed through and from those he traveled with. He handled these conflicts in different ways, some more mature than others. Here, we will review some of his successes.

Early in his travels, Abram faced conflict between his servants and those of his nephew Lot. To resolve this conflict, Abram offered a peaceable compromise, separating and giving Lot the choice of the land. God was with Abram, and after Lot made his choice He revealed to Abram that he would inherit all the land around him.

Some time passed, and several local kings declared war on several other local kings. Abram’s nephew Lot and his family were caught up in the scuffle and carried off as captives. When Abram heard the news, he armed his servants, gathered his own allies, and mounted a rescue mission, successfully defeating the other army and freeing his nephew. The people he freed, and of the spoils of Sodom and the other cities - which were rightfully his - he kept only his own expenses. He wasn’t in it for the money. But what’s especially interesting about this encounter is the appearance of Melchizedek, the king of Salem, and priest of God, who comes forward to pronounce God’s blessing on Abram. God had looked with favor on Abram’s rescue, and delivered his enemies into his hand.

God looked so favorably on Abram, in fact, that when He set about destroying Sodom and Gomorrah, He saw fit to bring Abram (now Abraham) in on his plans. Abraham interceded with Him on their behalf, begging Him to spare the cities if He could find so many as ten righteous people there. Abraham could recognize the wickedness of the cities - he refused the king of Sodom’s offer of the spoils of war, because he didn’t want to be made rich by him - but he wanted to see the cities have a second chance at righteousness. Unfortunately, as we know, that didn’t happen; there was only one man worth saving to be found in both cities, and they were destroyed as God had promised.

What do we see from these snapshots of Abraham’s life? A generous man whose first desire was for peace, who wanted to see God’s goodness prevail, who wasn’t willing to compromise his integrity, and at the same time was willing and ready to rise up and defend his family. Abraham wasn’t perfect, as other stories from his life show, but in his successes he is still be a role model for us today.

For the sake of space, I’m going to wrap up this post here. We’ll pick back up again with Moses, as the children of Israel take their first steps towards the Promised Land.

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Next post: Nonresistance: A Biblical Theology of Violence (Part 2)