Violence in the Bible

Peter Ditzel

Violence in the Bible. The battle of Ai in a painting showing Joshua holding a sword and buckler with a skeleton holding a spear and fighting beside him.
This fanciful painting of the battle of Ai depicts death as fighting alongside Joshua. John Trumbull: Joshua at the Battle of Ai – Attended by Death Public Domain

Christians and non-Christians alike have often pondered the question of violence in the Bible. Many see God’s commands to kill the inhabitants of Canaan (e.g. Joshua 6:21; 10:40; 1 Samuel 15:3) as sanctioning Christians fighting in wars. Others view such statements as “God is love” (1 John 4:8) and “love your enemies” (Matthew 5:44) as prohibiting Christians from acts of violence. Nonbelievers say these Scriptures contradict and use them to ridicule the Christian faith. Some Bible teachers have tried to reconcile these discrepancies by asserting a middle ground in which Christians are to seek peace when possible while understanding that certain circumstances allow for violence. How are we to understand the fact that the Bible appears to condone and even command brutal violence while also calling for peace and nonviolence?