Reconciling Nonviolence with the New Testament

Jesus Unarmed

By Keith Giles

Here is a book that addresses an age-old dilemma surrounding Christianity, to buy swords or to beat them into ploughshares? To quote the author: 

“One of the reasons why so many Christians are confused by the notion of Christian nonviolence is because the Bible seems to advocate for war on numerous occasions. So, to them, warfare and violence are ‘Biblical’ concepts and, therefore, should not be rejected. However, what they misunderstand is the difference between something that is ‘Biblical’ and something that is ‘Christlike.’ The two are not synonymous.”

Keith Giles’ new book, Jesus Unarmed, acknowledges that untold billions of people over the past two millennia have found justification for violence in the pages of the Bible. Even in the New Testament, which is supposed to preach the ways of the Prince of Peace. 

When most people—Christians included—read the passages where Jesus admonishes us to love our enemies and refrain from answering violence with more violence, our response is almost always, “Yes, but…” Fill in the blank after the “but” with your own excuse why nonviolence will not work in your own case. 

Giles reveals a new paradigm for reading the biblical stories. When Jesus appears to be advocating violence (e.g., telling followers to buy a sword or, in Revelation, apparently leading an army against the forces of evil), look beneath the surface to find the real intent of the story. The author makes the argument that these tales from Scripture preach the opposite of the common perception. 

Jesus Unarmed will not convert nonbelievers to adherents of the faith. Giles clearly writes from the assumption that his readers accept the sayings attributed to Jesus in the New Testament as the gospel truth—pun fully intended—and even addresses some of the sayings as if Jesus is being quoted in the manner of modern journalism, in his exact words. No, this book intends to bolster the faith of Christians who have found themselves perplexed over what appears to be justifications for violence.

Giles enumerates examples and studies that show nonviolence is actually more effective. He also passes along anecdotes of notable examples literally torn from the pages of recent newspapers. It takes time to get from the rhetoric to the tangible, but patience pays off. This is a good read.

About pwandersen

Patrick W. Andersen's debut novel, Second Born, won critical acclaim for its reimagining of the life of Jesus as he grew up with his brothers and sisters in Sepphoris. His new novel, Acts of the Women, tells stories of how women, in the decades after the crucifixion, helped give birth to what eventually became Christianity.
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