Was Jesus A Jihadist?

In response to a post comparing the Bible to the Qur’an Gloria asks:

How does one explain the passage in Mathew….”Jesus did not come to bring peace but to bring the sword…” Seems that is a “jihad”

That passage in Matthew has a context and authorial intent. Here is the entire passage:

Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I have not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law. And a person’s enemies will be those of his own household. Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. And whoever does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it (Matt 10:34-39; English Standard Version)

The “sword” to which Jesus referred is figurative, metaphorical, not literal as becomes clear in v. 35. It is the setting of family members against one another spiritually. This was Jesus’ call to discipleship and to put the Kingdom of God/heaven above family/clan loyalty. The one time someone (Peter) took up the sword in defense of Jesus (John 18:11), Jesus told him to put it away, that he (Jesus) had to die on the cross.

Most of the time and for most of history the Jihad that we can see has been military and violent. Certainly the Jihad with which we are most familiar since the 1979 Iranian revolution has been violent. Some scholars of Islam and apologists for Islam argue that Jihad can be figurative, referring to a personal struggle to bring one’s self into submission to Allah—remember, Islam means “submission.” Even in such a case the analogy is imperfect. One cost of discipleship is alienation from family. Jesus certainly did not call Christians to a literal, martial conflict and in this passage the struggle is not internal but external and familial. The internal Christian struggle against sin is typically cast in terms of death: “take up your cross and follow me” (Matt 16:24). Jesus continued, “whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it” (v. 25). By contrast, the baseline for the figurative Islamic Jihad, the background against which it is understood, is a bloody military operation in which others are brought by force, into submission. That is not the imagery used in the New Testament.

When, in the epistles, Christians are called to warfare or where military imagery is used to characterize the Christian life and struggle with sin it is always spiritual, figurative (though real), and never military. See e.g., 2 Corinthians 6:7; 10:1–5; 1 Timothy 1:18; Romans 7:22–24; 2 Peter 2:11; Romans 13:12; Ephesians 6:10–16. Paul explicitly contrasts spiritual weapons such as prayer with those of the “flesh,” e.g., the sword. Never, in the New Testament, is the faith to be advanced by force. The civil magistrate (Romans 13) is said to be God’s minister for establishing and keeping the peace, for punishing criminals, but not for imposing the Christian faith. In that regard, the Christian faith contrasts sharply with Islam.

Subscribe to the Heidelblog today!

One comment

  1. Islam makes a distinction between the Caliph and individual Muslims killing people. Like present day theonomists, the Magisterial Reformers made a distinction between church and state, but they also thought of the state as Christian and looked to Christian magistrates to impose the authority of “the unified catholic church” against “the sects”.

    They did not ask if two swords were enough to keep Jesus Christ from the cross. Instead of simply dismissing the pacifist attitude of Jesus as unique and not to be imitated (because Jesus our great high priest is the one and only person who made the once for all time propitiation), Augustine used the “two swords” text specifically to justify Constantinian magistrates against the Donatists.

    Augustine—Christian emperors are happy if they make their power the servant of God’s majesty by using it for the greatest possible extension of His worship

Comments are closed.