Did Yeshua teach pacifism?

All interests are subservient to the eternal interests of the Kingdom of God.

Matthew 5:39 – But I say to you, Do not resist the one who is evil. But if anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also.

The concept of forgiveness runs strong within the teachings of Yeshua. In order to not retaliate to aggressive behavior or a personal affront requires a measure of self-control and maturity to allow the insult, and sometimes injury, to pass.

But to what extent does the Bible teach that should believers remain non-retaliatory? Should a father protect his family from home intruders? Should a believer be engaged with a national military conflict? These are difficult questions because the Bible speaks to many different types of situations and has been used to support many different positions on this topic.

Even though I am a veteran of the American military, as I have grown in my biblical understanding over the years, I have gravitated toward a more pacifistic stance. From a philosophical standpoint, the idea of believers serving in opposing military forces would mean that believers are essentially killing other believers for the sake of their respective national interest. This would mean that the national interest has taken precedence over the universal spiritual kingdom of God. Under any other circumstance, believers would not be pitted against each other in a fight to the death.

In fairness, though, I must also admit that the passage quoted above about turning the other cheek is contextually about personal responsibility, and is not an absolute morality standard. If we believe love is the primary response for believers, we must remember that Yeshua also taught that the greatest love for others is self-sacrifice. Yeshua used the example of the good shepherd who is willing to lay down his life for the sheep; however, as King David was famous for, that was typically in protecting the sheep from the wild animals, not other humans.

But is that self-sacrifice to be exhibited in acts of aggression toward others? Is it morally defensible from the Bible to kill a human aggressor in order to save others?

1 John 3:16 – By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers.

Once again, John is not setting up a universal morality standard here, as the context of this passage is in ensuring that believers are diligent in providing for one another’s physical needs. In that sense, we should put the interests of others above ourselves.

1 John 3:15, 17-18 – Everyone who hates his brother is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life abiding in him. … But if anyone has the world’s goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God’s love abide in him? Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth.

Paul reiterates this point, as well.

Philippians 2:3-4 – Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.

If I was to land upon a more definitive position regarding what might be called biblical messianic pacifism within the Kingdom of God, I would offer the following: in personal quarrels, forgive and do not retaliate. When faced with endangerment of others not able to protect themselves, placing oneself as a non-lethal protector and defender is justifiable and honorable.

Some may argue that God is not against war, as he commanded the Israelites to kill and essentially exterminate the Canaanites. But we must remember the campaign against Canaan was God’s judgment upon those nations for their detestable idolatrous practices, and was not primarily about Israel’s interests. Moses made this abundantly clear as he spoke to the Israelites before they crossed the Jordan to take the land.

Deuteronomy 9:5-6 – “Not because of your righteousness or the uprightness of your heart are you going in to possess their land, but because of the wickedness of these nations Yahweh your God is driving them out from before you, and that he may confirm the word that Yahweh swore to your fathers, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob. Know, therefore, that Yahweh your God is not giving you this good land to possess because of your righteousness, for you are a stubborn people.”

God’s use of Israel in war was a measure of physical judgment upon the Canaanites that was a metaphorical baseline within the over-arching biblical narrative: God’s enemies would be vanquished and his universal kingdom would be established in their place. However, to presume any war fought today is a righteous and holy war against idolatrous barbarians because of their wickedness and rebellion against God would require mental gymnastics beyond the scope of reason.

How we apply Yeshua’s admonition to turn the other cheek may lead us to differing conclusions regarding personal defense and national interests. But we must remember that even national interests are subservient to the eternal interests of the Kingdom of God. Doing what is biblically “correct” in any situation requires a holistic view of the entire Bible, not just cherry-picking proof-texts to support a personal or public agenda.


If you enjoy these daily blog posts, be sure to visit the growing archive of the Core of the Bible podcast. Each week we take a more in-depth look at one of the various topics presented in the daily blog. You can view the podcast archive on our Podcast Page, at Core of the Bible on Simplecast, or your favorite podcast streaming service.

Now also on YouTube, find us at: Core of the Bible on YouTube.

Questions or comments? Feel free to email me directly at coreofthebible@gmail.com.

Moses’ practical steps for community faithfulness

Vigilance requires constant focus.

Deuteronomy 11:16 – “Keep careful guard that you are not enticed to turn aside, serve, and bow in worship to other gods.”

As the nation of Israel was nearing the end of its wilderness journeys, Moses cautioned them to ensure they remain faithful to all that they have received, so they could have success in their new homeland. He cautioned them against the primary sin of the idolatry of the nations that were inhabiting the land.

As a method of remaining faithful, Moses provided an outline of some practical steps to ensure that they were guarding their souls and protecting their little ones so the next generation would not forget what they have experienced, and how God desired them to act in righteousness amidst the idolatry of their surroundings.

In Hebrew practice even to this day, Jews all over the world recite these several passages as a daily statement of faith, known as the Shema.

Deuteronomy 6:4-9 – “Listen, Israel: Yahweh our God, Yahweh is one. “Love Yahweh your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your strength. “These words that I am giving you today are to be in your heart. “Repeat them to your children. Talk about them when you sit in your house and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. “Bind them as a sign on your hand and let them be a symbol on your forehead. “Write them on the doorposts of your house and on your city gates.”

There are other passages included in the Shema recitation, however, if we break apart this passage we may gain some understanding for maintaining our own faithfulness as well.

“Love Yahweh your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your strength.” This is a prerequisite to any form of diligent faithfulness. The sole motivation for believers should not be a hope of future reward, but simple and sincere love of Yahweh that consumes every aspect of our being.

“These words that I am giving you today are to be in your heart.” When we memorize portions of Scripture, we gain the ability to recall in an instant an appropriate instruction that can assist us throughout the trials of each day.

Psalm 119:9-11 – How can a young man keep his way pure? By keeping your word. I have sought you with all my heart; don’t let me wander from your commands. I have treasured your word in my heart so that I may not sin against you.

“Repeat them to your children. Talk about them when you sit in your house and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up.” To instill our biblical values in our children, we need to repeat them to our children in a variety of ways. When we are sitting in our house or walking or driving along the road with them, we should be drawing out spiritual understanding from these life experiences. Evening and morning prayers are valuable to model for them so they can learn how to pray and recite important passages as they grow.

“Bind them as a sign on your hand and let them be a symbol on your forehead.” This practice is viewed literally by most orthodox Jews by physically tying phylacteries, scripture boxes, to their arms and heads. However, in other contexts where this same type of language is used, it can be taken metaphorically to represent that the hands should always be about the work of the kingdom, and the mind (between the eyes) should always be focused on God’s commands.

Finally, Moses commands them to, “Write them on the doorposts of your house and on your city gates.” This is the practice of affixing a mezuzah, a small scripture box, to the door frame of the home, and also ensuring that each city or village entrance identifies the commands of God in a visible statement. These visible reminders at the point of entrance provide touchpoints amidst the daily travels.

These practices, while intended primarily for the Israelites as they were about to be moving into a new form of living in the land of Canaan, still provide relevance for us today. God’s instruction, his torah, should be such a practical focus of our lives each day that we cannot stray from God’s commands. These types of practices provide physical reminders to us and help our children navigate the mazes of temptation and spiritual distractions of their generation, as well. Through memorization, recitation, and practical obedience, we can be continually reminded to stay focused on God’s purpose and be better prepared to successfully pass the faith to the next generation.


If you enjoy these daily blog posts, be sure to visit the growing archive of the Core of the Bible podcast. Each week we take a more in-depth look at one of the various topics presented in the daily blog. You can view the podcast archive on our Podcast Page, at Core of the Bible on Simplecast, or your favorite podcast streaming service.

Now also on YouTube! Just getting started, but new videos will be added regularly on many different topics, find us at: Core of the Bible on YouTube.

Questions or comments? Feel free to email me directly at coreofthebible@gmail.com.