Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Revelation of Peace—Not Violence

The Book of Revelation is often pointed to in support of an interpretation of Jesus Christ which justifies violence and war. Revelation is thought to support this interpretation because the book is widely thought to contain Jesus destroying his enemies in a bloody war. Greg Boyd refutes the violent interpretation of Jesus which attempts to use Revelation as support (hereafter "the violent view") by offering these points:

1) The Violent View Disregards the Genre of Revelation

Revelation is apocalyptic, and therefore should be interpreted with this genre's characteristics in mind. Apocalyptic literature often employs symbolism to communicate truth. These symbols are not meant to be understood as one-to-one representations of visible reality, but are meant to be understood as representing an unseen reality. To disregard the apocalyptic genre of Revelation does injustice to the Text and leads to misunderstanding, error.

2) The Violent View Misunderstands the Meaning of Jesus' Sword

Rather than being a worldly weapon of war wielded in one's hand (II Cor. 10.4), Jesus' sword in Revelation proceeds from his mouth. It is in fact Truth and the Word of God. (Heb. 4.12) Boyd writes,

[Jesus' sword] rather comes out of his mouth (Rev. 1.16 [cf. Heb. 4:12]; 2.16; 19:15, 21), signifying that Jesus defeats enemies simply by speaking the truth. The saints also overcome not with physical weapons but by “the blood of the lamb and by the word of their testimony” [Rev. 12.11].

3) The Violent View Mistakes the Blood of Jesus for the Blood of His Enemies

Rather than being soaked in the blood of his enemies, Jesus appears in chapter 19 (v.13) already bloody. The blood that Jesus' robes are soaked in is his own—not his enemies'. Jesus is the Conquering Lamb. He is victorious because he was slain (Col. 2.15; Rev. 5.12)

…if we interpret Revelation according to its genre and in its original historical context, and if we pay close attention to the ingenious way John uses traditional symbolism, it becomes clear that John is taking traditional Old Testament and Apocalyptic violent imagery and turning it on its head. Yes there is an aggressive war, and yes there is bloodshed. But its a war in which the Lamb and his followers are victorious because they fight the devil and Babylon (representing all governmental systems) by faithfully laying down their lives for the sake of truth (”the blood of the lamb and the word of their testimony”)…


  1. I have a question that I'd like answered if you could find the time. It doesn't pertain to the Revelation post I just needed some place to comment. In our conversations you stated that defending the weak with the use of force when they are being attacked is wrong because it does not show the love of Christ and more importantly (for my question) it would be wrong because it would be repaying evil for evil. My question (or better my request) is for you to share with me an evidenced case as to how/why that particular use of force is considered evil and/or unloving. For guidance sake, I would ask that the following disclaimers be held in mind when answering:

    1.) Turn the other cheek would best be practiced when you are the individual being attacked.

    2.) Using force to end an attack would not be seeking vengeance or retaliation. Vengeance or retaliation would be going to the attackers house later that day and using violent force in attempts to re balance the scales the attacker set off earlier or in order to appease a sense of injustice/anger I hold personally.

    The above two points are my opinions. If you disagree with them please include in your response why you think those opinions are at fault.

    Rapes, muggings, attacks, and murders do happen and at times people witness them and have the opportunity to intervene. Basically, I want to know why intervening with the smallest amount of force necessary is considered by you to be evil or unloving. I thank you in advance for any time you are able to commit to this request.

  2. For further clarification, let's assume someone who claims to be a Christian did use the above listed force in a setting where at the time they felt it necessary and where it proved effectual in ending the rape/attack/murder attempt. Did the Christian sin and if so how would you explain to them that what they did was sin?

  3. jackelliot79,

    I have to be honest with you. Your commenting behavior is skating dangerously close to being troll-like. It certainly appears you have no genuine interest in fruitful dialog. Let me give you a couple of examples.

    1) Your first set of comments on this blog were in criticism of my critique of a review written by Darrell Cole on C. S. Lewis' essay "Why I Am Not a Pacifist." You write, "Why not attempt to refute [the Lewis' piece]…?" Well, I did. Where is your response to my thorough critique of Lewis' essay? Nowhere. I find that more than a little odd. You were quite offended that I didn't critique Lewis directly (as if Lewis' arguments would be better than Coles), but offer no remarks on my 19-page critique of Lewis' work. This is definitely troll-like behavior.

    2) Also in the first thread of comments, you make arguments that I squarely refute. You claim John the Baptist's words to the soldiers as support for your view—which is against Christian nonviolence. I clearly show that this is a faulty argument since it is at best an argument from silence. In fact, I show that logically, if the Baptist forbids soldiers from even extorting money from others, any greater violence would certainly be prohibited. Again, no response.

    I'm afraid, jackelliot79, that you've demonstrated that you have no interest in reconsidering your view no matter how thoroughly it is proven unbiblical. With this sort of commenter, I won't waste my time. Perhaps another of this blog's contributors will take you up on your challenge. As for me, I'll continue to wait for some responses to what I've already posted before I consider engaging you in more discussion.

    Grace & peace

  4. I've got to be honest, I'm taken aback at being called troll-like. I have a vague idea of what that means and don't really see that it fits here. You bring up the Baptist conversation and claim you refuted it. I believe you merely said violence can't be right. You never shared WHY it was evil, just that it was. Later in that conversation (or earlier) you claimed all force isn't violence and you did so as if you were making that point. It struck me as odd because I had been saying that very thing for some time. This is why I wrote my most recent question and I merely wrote it where I thought it would be first noticed. It could have been placed back at our previous conversation and it could have been placed at your Lewis critique for I feel it is the central issue that divides Christian pacifists and Christian non-pacifists. (to be continued)

  5. Every conversation you have with a non pacifist, in my opinion at least, will boil down to the above question. You have to establish why these certain acts, the specific ones I referenced above, are evil. I have not seen that done yet and for some reason you decided to insult me before offering an answer. I would think you would be eager to address this issue as you would already have the answer in hand in order to be a Christian pacifist and it would fully flesh out your stance. This is the one point I find lacking and conversation after conversation will lead back to it and all I've seen in my history is a list of why this conversation wont be answered. This, I will say, is the first time I've seen it avoided by insulting me. I am not some empty headed Yankees hater. If you or anyone else at tanks decides to reply please refer back to my initial question. I meant no harm in asking it and was honest in my intentions.

  6. "In fact, I show that logically, if the Baptist forbids soldiers from even extorting money from others, any greater violence would certainly be prohibited. Again, no response."

    The immorality of the act is what would push it over into the realm of violence; the sort of violence we should never use. If the soldier were to protect a woman from an attacker they would not be using violence. They would be doing there jobs. As you said, all use of force isn't violent. I can understand why you think I am being troll like but you've got to understand that although you believe you've refuted my point I believe you've merely offered a quick dismissive sentence.

  7. I want to know what is evil about using force to protect a woman from an aggressor. This is the direct qualification for your stance. We cannot protect with force because...Why? Police officers use of force is wrong because...Why? Stating that it is wrong because it doesn't look like the cross isn't a reason. Dying on a cross doesn't look like vctory but it is. Spanking a kid doesn't look like the cross but I feel we'd both agree it's called for if practiced accordingly. That is why I ask the primary question and whoever/wherever I ask it, it is a conversation ender and this should not be the case.

  8. I will refrain from posting here anymore. I just wrote these last few because I wanted to make clear that my intentions aren't to troll. You set me at a loss when you accuse me of that and force me to carry my point up out of a trench. I understand why you came to that conclusion. I just hope you understand that my last posts here are merely to clear up any confusion there may have been that distracted from the honest intentions I've had. I do thank you for your time.

  9. Evil is that which fills the void when good is absent. Jesus commands us to "do good to those you hate you or despitefully use you." He commands us to "bless" our enemies and "love" them. Anything less than doing what Jesus commands, following his example, is sin.

    It's a little odd to have to explain why violence against a person is not "good" "blessing" or "loving." Scripture says love is kind, not self-seeking, does not dishonor others, nor is it rude. Violence is force meant to harm. Not all force is meant to harm, therefore not all force is violence. I must apply force to lift a box. I am not committing violence by applying force to the box.

    To recap:

    1) Evil is the lack of good
    2) Jesus commands and models what is good
    3) Violence is force meant to harm
    4) Not all force is meant to harm
    5) Not all force is violence