This book is a tract for the times. It is written for Christians who love the Bible and acknowledge its authority for faith and life. It faces openly the fact that the Bible is ambiguous about many great moral issues, such as slavery, the place of women, and war and peace. That is to say that people on either side of the argument can quote considerable selections of scripture that seem clearly to support their side.
For Christians in the peace movement to work with a “mini-canon” of beloved peace passages, totally ignoring the war passages, and for the advocates of peace through strength to work with the war passages and ignore the peace passages gets us nowhere. Someone needs to present as plainly and honestly as possible both sides of the ambiguity and to work through them to a position that is faithful to the central thrust of scripture and to the Lord of scripture. Until we can do that, millions of Christians will be “nowhere” on one of the most critical issues of our time.
I first sensed the ambiguity of the Bible regarding war and peace as a child, listening to my father and mother quote scripture to each other in their ongoing debate about this issue. It figured heavily in my approval as a candidate for the ministry: the chairman of the committee, a veteran of World War I, was disturbed because I refused to embrace completely the warmaking side of the ambiguity. I agonized with it as I faced my own participation in World War II.
As the reality of the nuclear threat has come home to me and I have been caught up in the peace movement, the biblical ambiguity has continued to haunt me. I have been driven to grapple with this problem in lectures at Presbyterian School of Christian Education, Louisville Presbyterian Theological Seminary, Davidson College, and elsewhere. Finally I have been driven to put my struggle into this book. My purpose here is to meet the biblical ambiguity head on and to see if in spite of it, and indeed because of it, there is a scriptural basis for working for the abolition of war, for joining in the chorus of “Ain’t Gonna Study War No More.”
I am indebted to many books; I have tried to acknowledge them in the Notes. I owe a special debt to Walter Brueggemann, who patiently read the manuscript while on leave at Cambridge and promptly sent a multitude of helpful suggestions back across the Atlantic. Portions of an early draft were read to a small World Peacemakers group that met weekly at six-thirty AM. and included Walter and Clare Baldwin, Salome Betts, Beverly Blomgren, Dick Ellis, Barbara Gifford, Elaine Green, and others. Many of their suggestions helped to shape what is here. A special word of thanks goes to Gilbert Gragg, who persistently suggested the title. None of the above is responsible for the imperfections that remain.
An early draft resembled an anthology, because I wanted to assemble a large number of the relevant passages on both sides and let them speak for themselves. Readers and editors have persuaded me to reduce the number of passages quoted, but a considerable bulk of scripture quotation remains. I recognize the sin of sloth in us all that prevents us from looking up references, and I am still eager for readers to feel directly the impact of the biblical ambiguity.
Bible quotations are from the New Revised Standard Version unless otherwise noted. I salute its move toward more inclusive language and regret the abundance of remaining masculine pronouns that refer to God. I have not attempted to alter that, but have quoted texts as they stand with one exception. I have replaced “Son of Man” with “the Human One,” believing that to be a quite accurate translation of bar enash and huios tou anthropou. The ambiguity regarding war and peace and the historical fact that our texts come from a patriarchal society are not unrelated.