Answers in Exegesis: Was Jesus a Pacifist?

I guess if there is any real confusion about the nature of Jesus’ teaching, the question truly emerges about whether or not Jesus was pacifist, a question that I believe is best answered through exegesis of the text. The question emerges from Matthew’s gospel, in what has come to be known as The Sermon on the Mount, found in chapters 5 thru 7. In this part of Matthew’s gospel, Jesus is recorded as giving a series of teachings about a variety of issues both personal and public. The particular passage that is raised in question is from Matthew 5:38-40 (ESV),

38“You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth. ’
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.
40 And if anyone would sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well. And if anyone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles.
The issue is with the first part of verse 39,
39 But I say to you, Do not resist the one who is evil.
What does it mean to “not resist the one who is evil”?
In the most literal sense, one would assume that Jesus is telling his hearers, and us by removal of time, to sit on our hands in the face of evil, and to not give any type of response to the evil that goes on around us, but is this the case?
When we look into the history of the matter, specifically the fact that Jesus first quotes, what is called in theological circles, the lex taliones, which comes from Exodus 21and Leviticus 24. The fact that Jesus remarks in verse 38, “You have heard it said…”, he was saying that the teaching he was addressing was fishy, even in error. So what was the teaching?
When we look at Scripture, and at history, we find that the lex taliones, was directed to be applied by the civil authorities (see Deuteronomy 19), however the teaching had been taken and twisted to foster personal retaliation for even the slightest offenses. It appears that Jesus was redressing a teaching that was breeding contempt and anger. But, back to verse 39.
There is some debate as to exactly how the phrase that is translated as “do not resist the one who is evil”, and it appears to have been going on for some time. But let’s look around a little, keep in mind the fact that the law was being abused, twisted out of its normative sense. I think once that fact is considered, what Jesus was saying, something Paul picks up on in his epistle to the Romans, which is often called “Paul’s gospel”:
Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all. If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” To the contrary, “if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.” Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good. (Romans 12:17-21 ESV)
I believe that Paul is expounding on Jesus’ teaching, which is only encapsulated in Matthew’s gospel. The point is that no one is to exact personal revenge, because the tendency for mere men is not simply to “get even”, but to “get even, and then some”. That is why Paul goes on in chapter 13 of Romans to describe the nature of government in God’s economy.
If we honestly think what Jesus was teaching was pacifism, then Jesus later cleansing of the Temple makes no sense. What Jesus was teaching, and gives three examples to anchor his teaching, was that no one has the right to take matters into their own hands. Matters of justice are best left to those authorities that God has established.


  1. […] Alright, let’s examine this. Yes, Jesus appeared to hundreds of people following his resurrection, but does that logically mean that Jesus should appear to everyone. Let’s think back just a few hundred years in the history of our our own nation (the United States). Today, we take for granted that the president of this nation can effectively speak to the entire nation in a matter of a few minutes through the use of modern technology. 100 years ago, the president could address the nation via radio. 50 years before that, the telegram. But what about before the telegram? Presidential addresses were transcribed and couriered around the nation and read by criers or printed in newspapers. Did that mean that the nation didn’t have a president? No, of course not. But back to the present: even though the president has the technological ability to address the nation at any and every given moment through the advent of the internet, does he have to (well, he seems to think he does)? Just because you have the power to do something, does it logically mean that you have to, an in the way that certain people would like you to? No, of course not. Further, it does not logically follow that his appearing to every person would be helpful, because some people because some people may simply shrug it off. If I needed a personal visit from the president to conclude that the President of the United States is real, then I would be sadly disappointed because there is no reason that requires a person visitation for me to conclude that 1) he exists, 2) he is Barak Hussein Obama, and 3) his is the two-term president, because I have a copy of the US Constitution that objectively establishes the office of the president, the method by which he is to be elected, the qualifications by which he can obtain said office, as well as news reports of the election of a person to that office. Funny thing, I have similar things for the person of Jesus Christ: an document that objectively establishes the parameters under which God states that he acts in time revealed through his prophets, who spoke of a day when God would step down from his eternal throne and enter his creation, and I have eyewitness testimony to the events. What more do I need? Not to be outdone, Marshall has this to say, What about Jesus’ famous statement in the Bible, “Happy are those who have not seen yet still believe”? What you realize is that this statement creates the perfect cover for a scam. Yes, but a “scam” for what? What’s the “scam”? I’ve yet to have a satisfying answer, but let’s place the quote in context: it comes after the resurrection, when Jesus is having his encounter with Thomas in John 20:29. Now, most translations of the Bible (those with red letters) will place those words in the mouth of Jesus. I don’t think that they belong there, but I have my reasons for that assumption, something I’ll have to explain later, but suffice it to say since I do not think that those words belong in the mouth of Jesus, I’ll dismiss his assertion of “scam” because he doesn’t define it.    So, is God imaginary? The one that Marshall has demonstrated is: a God who has no personality, no thoughts, and has no plans for his creation. The biggest issue that we have had to deal with in this series is, just simply, straw men, category errors, and empty assertions. While Marshall has demonstrated that he has the ability to copy and past scripture, he has shown no grasp of the culture into which they emerged from or any reflective review if them in their context. Anyway, onto the next project, maybe I’ll pick up and do some more of my series on “Answers in Exegesis”, such as here, here and here. […]

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