Does Isaiah 2:3-4 Teach Christian Non-Violence?

By Jon Kauffman

If Early Church writers thought that this passage supported Christian Non-Resistance can we also consider the passage to support Non-Resistance today?

The Swan Range rising up in the clear blue sky over the mowed hay at the Gordon Ranch. Courtesy Leon Kauffman.

By reading quotes from Early Church writers concerning Isaiah 2:3-4 and a similar passage in Micah 4:2-4 we can see that they felt the Christian Church was a fulfillment of this prophecy and that Christians should no longer participate in violence and war.

This is the passage from Isaiah:

Many peoples will come and say,
“Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord,
    to the temple of the God of Jacob.
He will teach us his ways,
    so that we may walk in his paths.”
The law will go out from Zion,
    the word of the Lord from Jerusalem.
He will judge between the nations
    and will settle disputes for many peoples.
They will beat their swords into plowshares
    and their spears into pruning hooks.
Nation will not take up sword against nation,
    nor will they train for war anymore.

Isaiah 2:3 & 4 NIV

Many early Christians quoted these passages and commented on them. Let’s look at a few of the quotes.

Justin Martyr: (100 AD – 165 AD)

“We ourselves were well conversant with war, murder and everything evil, but all of us throughout the whole wide earth have traded in our weapons of war. We have exchanged our swords for plowshares, our spears for farm tools…now we cultivate the fear of God, justice, kindness, faith, and the expectation of the future given us through the Crucified One….The more we are persecuted and martyred, the more do others in ever increasing numbers become believers.”
Justin Martyr, Dialogue with Trypho 110.3.4

For from Jerusalem there went out into the world, men, twelve in number, and these illiterate, of no ability in speaking: but by the power of God they proclaimed to every race of men that they were sent by Christ to teach to all the word of God, and we who formerly used to murder one another do not only now refrain from making war upon our enemies, but also, that we may not lie nor deceive our examiners, willingly die confessing Christ.
The First Apology of Justin Martyr Chapter 39.

Irenaeus (130 AD – 202 AD)

“The new covenant that brings back peace and the law that gives life have gone forth over the whole earth, as the prophets said: “For out of Zion will go forth the law, and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem; and he will instruct many people; and they will break down their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks, and they will no longer learn to make war.” These people formed their swords and war lances into plowshares,” that is, into instruments used for peaceful purposes. So now, they are unaccustomed to fighting, so when they are struck, they offer also the other cheek.”
Irenaeus of Lyons: Against Heresies Book 4 (c.180 AD)

From this quote it appears that Irenaeus clearly thought that turning the other cheek included a refusal to resist in the time of war.

Other early writers including Tertullian and Origin quoted the Isaiah and Micah passages as well.

After all these years, the 20th Century was the bloodiest century ever and Christians were involved in most of the wars.

And why do Christians fight in wars today? Is it because the church is teaching that the fighting, violence and war is acceptable? What about the commands of Jesus and Paul?

Jesus said, 38 “You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’ 39 But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also.” 
Matthew 5:38,39. NIV

Jesus said, 44 But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45 that you may be children of your Father in heaven.” 
Matthew 5:44-45a. NIV

Paul said, “Some people who think that we live by the standards of this world. For though we live in the world, we do not wage war as the world does. The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds. We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.”
2 Corinthians 10:2-5. NIV

Clearly early Christians felt that this Isaiah passage confirmed that Christians should follow Jesus’ example in living and dying by refusing to resist evil men.

We can find many examples of early Christians teaching including the quotes above. We can also see the example of Christians dying at the hands of the Romans by laying their lives down without resistance in times of persecution. I am not aware any Christian writers before Constantine who were pro-war.

Hippolytus wrote:

If anyone be a soldier or in authority, let him be taught not to oppress or to kill or to rob, or to be angry or to rage and afflict anyone. But let those rations suffice him which are given to him. But if they wish to be baptized in the Lord, let them cease from military service or from the [ post of] authority, and if not let them not be received.

Let a catechumen or a believer of the people, if he desire to be a soldier, either cease from his intention, or if not let him be rejected. For he hath despised God by his thought, and leaving the things of the Spirit, he hath perfected himself in the flesh, and hath treated the faith with contempt.

THE TESTAMENT OF OUR LORD. Hippolytus, (170 AD -235 AD)

Return to : Reasons Christians Give to Say Violence by Christians is Legitimate

Copyright © 2019 by Jon Kauffman Permission to reprint in whole or in part is gladly granted, provided full credit and a live link are given.
Permission is gladly given to re-blog this post.

Picture: Copyright © 2019 by Leon Kauffman

Edited: 6/25/2022

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Author: Jon

Jon Kauffman graduated from Goshen College, earning a BA in Religion. Jon attended a Mennonite Church while growing up and currently attends the Salvation Army Church. Jon works as a drafter at TrueNorth Steel, Fargo, ND.

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