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Jesus Christ: Prince of Peace or God of War?
Douglas Jacoby, 2013
Harvard University


1.    O.T. Church-state. Although priesthood and monarchy were separate, Israel was a “church-state.” Citizens were covenant members.

2.    Messianic expectation: political, economic, military. Lion of the tribe of Judah > Lamb that was slain.

3.    The teaching of Christ
a.    Isaiah 2:4 (Micah 4:3), 9:6, 52:13-53:12—Interpretations of the victorious Messiah
b.    Matthew 4:17 etc.—Kingdom of God as rival government
c.    Matthew 5:21-26,38-48; Romans 12:14-13:7—Love for enemies

4.    Antenicene Christianity:
a.     Good citizens: Paid taxes; prayed for government officials; engaged in social work.
b.    Counter-cultural: distanced themselves from (idolatrous) sacrifices; civic events; violence.

5.   Early Medieval Christendom:
a.    Legislating morality
b.  Persecuted becomes persecutor. “No wild beasts are such enemies to mankind as are the majority of Christians in their deadly hatred of one another.”– Ammianus (4th C.)
c.    State church: mandatory christening; clergy employed by government; churches exempt from taxes; magistrates enforce church decrees & doctrine; non-conformity (heresy) = sedition (political); militarism; civic duty and Christian duty coalesce.

6.    Later Christendom: Forced baptism, Crusades, Inquisition, armed bishops (personal armies)

7.    Reformation & dissent: Mainstream Reformation vs. the Radical Reformation (Anabaptists)

8.    Pacifist reaction: Quakers, Amish, Mennonites, Brethren, Churches of Christ (until 1917/1918)

9.    The American experience: John Winthrop’s “City upon a hill” (1630); American Civil Religion; the political right; pro-Israel sentiment; equation of Christianity with (American) democratic capitalism.

10.  Violent apocalypticism: Doctrine of the Tribulation; Armageddon and survivalists. “We, while the stars from heaven shall fall / And mountains on mountains are hurled / Shall stand unmoved amidst them all /And smile to see a burning world.”– Millerite hymn, 1843


1.     The place of the state
2.     Oaths of allegiance
3.     Warfare
4.     Business ethics (exploitation)
5.     Gentleness (driving, language, courtesy, aggressive activism)
6.     Entertainment (violent themes)
7.     Medical ethics (abortion, euthanasia, definition of life…)
8.     Litigation
9.     Nationalism. (U.S. nationalism: revolution, slavery, decimation of indigenous peoples)
10.   A moral and ethical trajectory?

Further study

·       Alexander Campbell on War
·       John Driver, How Christians Made Peace with War
·       Jacoby-Boteach debate: Judaism or Christianity: Which is the Religion of Peace? (2008)
·       Jesus & Islam, with Aziz Muhammad Sarah
·       Prince of Peace, God of War (dialogue on pacifism vs. just war)
·       The Oxford Handbook of Religion and Violence (2013)
·       Mark Twain, The War Prayer