The Difference Between Jihad and Holy War

Has anyone ever taken something you said out of context? I hate it when that happens. 

Out of Context: Examples of Ignorance

Two guys took the Bible out of context in what is called, “The Holy Quran Experiment.” They took a Bible and switched the cover to make it look like a copy of the Qur’an. Then, they read several verses to the general public to see what people thought about this religion. You can watch the video for yourself here.

What is surprising about this is how ignorant professing Christians are of their own Bibles. They were quick to judge the book by it's cover (literally), and didn't take a moment to reflect on the words in their own context. Numerous studies have shown that American Christians do not know what is in the Bible, and one recent study (The State of Theology) informed us that many modern evangelical Christians believe ancient heresies!

Christians are ill-equipped to discuss basic theology. They are unprepared to engage others competently, using both logic and common sense.

The Difference Between Jihad and Holy War

In the Bible, there is no mention of any kind of jihad that forces a religion upon others or death if the perceived enemy does not convert. There is, however, mention of holy war.

Entire books of the Bible recount the destruction of pagan nations (see Judges and Joshua). The Israelites were not attempting to unjustly murder and pillage innocent societies but were instead fulfilling God’s direct commands to execute his judgment against these rebellious nations (for example, see Joshua 2:10; 6:17–21). Certain nations became so filled with corruption and evil that God finally gave them over to destruction.

Christians are never commanded to repeat the holy wars that took place in Israel’s history. These wars are in the past, not for the present. For example, when James and John urged holy war against the Samaritan pagans who rejected the gospel message, Jesus rebuked them (Luke 9:51–56). 

The kingdom of God doesn’t advance by force; it advances by preaching a victim who willingly suffered violence to bring peace.

God didn’t play favorites with Israel either. The righteous standard by which he judged the nations was the same standard by which he judged Israel. In fact, the growing mountain of sins Israel piled up was what led to their own exile out of the promised land. God allowed his own people to be subject to the same kind of holy war he had them wage against the pagan nations around them:

Because Manasseh king of Judah has committed these abominations and has done things more evil than all that the Amorites did, who were before him, and has made Judah also to sin with his idols, therefore thus says the LORD, the God of Israel: Behold, I am bringing upon Jerusalem and Judah such disaster that the ears of everyone who hears of it will tingle. (2 Kings 21:11–12)

Yikes! Not long after, both Babylon and Assyria invaded Israel and Judah, and the holy land spat the Israelites out. Again, these terrible things did happen—but they happened for a reason.

Much of the Old Testament is all about the sins of everyone—Adam and Eve, patriarchs and kings, Jews and Gentiles, men and women. The whole point of God giving the law and recording a history of the sins of his people for us to read is to show us our need for his Messiah—our Savior. All of us need Jesus.

Context Matters

It’s also worth mentioning that whenever we read any book—not just the Bible or the Qur’an—context is key. Whenever we pick up the Bible and read about someone in the Old Testament—we’re reading an ancient text that had its own context. The world of Israel was the world of the ancient Near East. What this means is that we’re “not in Kansas anymore” when we read it.

Not everything is going to be done the way we moderns (or postmoderns) do things. Before making judgments about how cruel and nasty God is, we should seek to understand what’s really going on. If you would like to read more on this topic, this article on holy war from Relevant Magazine is a good place to start.

We should always seek to find the truth, and the truth can never be found apart from fair readings of ancient texts. Although the video is entertaining, at the end of the day it is nothing but another gimmick to trick people into doubting the Christian faith. Don’t fall prey to such trickery. Seek the truth in love.

Photo of Nicholas Davis

Nicholas Davis

Nicholas Davis is lead pastor of Redemption Church (PCA) in San Diego, California. Nick has worked for White Horse Inn for several years, has written over one hundred articles for Core Christianity, and has work featured in Modern Reformation, Fathom Magazine, Mockingbird NYC, Church Leaders, Banner of Truth, and other places. Nick and his wife, Gina, have three sons. He blogs at nicholasmartindavis.com. Connect with Nicholas on Twitter @MundaneMinister.

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