For the Record (Daniel Heimbach): Why I am Not a Pacifist

[Editor’s Note: Daniel Heimbach is Senior Professor of Christian Ethics at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary. He has authored or contributed to fourteen books and published numerous articles and essays. Dr. Heimbach served in the Navy and also served as an adviser to President George H. W. Bush during the first Gulf War. He is the author of several pieces on just war, including, “The Bush Just War Doctrine: Genesis and Application of the President’s Moral Leadership in the Persian Gulf War.” In From Cold War to New World Order: The Foreign Policy of George H. W. Bush. Edited by Meena Bose and Rosanna Perotti (Westport, Connecticut: Greenwood, 2002), 441-464.]

I was born of missionary parents in the midst of war during the Communist revolution in China, and my life has been touched by war in significant ways. I am also a born again Christian, a true follower of Jesus Christ, and a moral theologian who specializes in understanding and teaching ethics. So this topic is one I have thought much about, and not just based on training and research but drawing from experience as well.

The short answer to why I am not a Pacifist is that Jesus was not a Pacifist and what Jesus taught, and what the rest of the Bible teaches, does not align with Pacifist teaching. That for me is the bottom line. Of course I have interests and loyalties as an American that are different from people living in other nations. But my ethics relating to war is not determined by these differences. When it comes to the ethics of war and peace between nations, all that matters to me, or that should matter to anyone else, is how a situation aligns with objective moral reality. And, while human reason is able to analyze this reality, the reality itself is fixed by the Moral Ruler of the Universe who is none other than Jesus Christ himself.

I do not enjoy war and am all too familiar with its horror. In fact I sincerely wish I could embrace Pacifism. That would be easy for me to do. Pacifism is very popular among others in my professional class and embracing it would result in a lot of personal affirmation and praise. I cannot do that with integrity, however, simply and only because I am convinced without a doubt that, when the Bible is accepted as the inerrant, authoritative, and plenary Word of God written, it cannot be reconciled with Pacifist ideology. I do not think Christians should go around starting wars. But I do believe the Bible teaches that God expects, and in fact requires, morally responsible rulers sometimes to use deadly force to defend weak and innocent people against unwarranted aggression, and also requires rulers to use coercive power where necessary to correct specific acts of injustice-taking care when they do these things to keep what they do within well defined moral boundaries.

What I have just described is the ethic of Just War, which is an ethic of war and peace between nations quite different in attitude and approach to the ethic of Pacifism. The main difference between these opposing approaches is that Pacifism is a perfectionist social ideology impossible ever to achieve before Jesus comes back to establish a perfect world, and Just War is a form of moral realism that recognizes we do not yet live in a socially perfect world. Unlike Pacifism, Just War is an ethic consistent with a sober understanding that we live in a wicked world filled with wicked people, and that by God’s choice this will continue to be the case until God himself removes all need for war by utterly removing all sin from the world. This also is consistent with humbly accepting the fact that only God can do this and we cannot.

The teaching and life of Jesus is the most important place Christians should go when deciding how to approach the ethics of war and peace. Pacifists claim Jesus was a Pacifist, and if they are right that would settle the question. But they are not right. Jesus was not a Pacifist himself, and he did not teach a Pacifist ethic for his disciples or anyone else to follow.

Jesus certainly is the Prince of Peace (Is 9:6; Lk 1:79). But the sort of “peace” Jesus offers the world is the peace of reconciling sinners to God. He did not launch a movement to remove all weapons of war or to disband all armies in a still very sinful world. He did not announce a program for pursuing civil non-violence no matter what happens in a wicked world. Pacifists read civil non-violence into every mention of “peace” in the New Testament. But that is hardly ever what the original human authors or the Holy Spirit were addressing.

In the one place Jesus did clearly address “peace” in the civil non-violence sense-the sort of “peace” Pacifists have in mind-he firmly and absolutely denied he was teaching an ethic of Pacifism. In that passage Jesus very clearly explains to his disciples, “Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace (in the civil non-violence sense) on the earth, I did not come to bring peace (in the civil non-violence sense) but a sword” (Mt 10:34). Jesus also assumed that morally responsible kings must sometimes go to war, and when they do they ought to apply the Just War principle of not sending troops into battle where there is no chance of success (Lk 14:31).

While Pacifists make much of the fact that Jesus rebuked Peter’s use of the sword in the Garden of Gethsemane, I as a responsible moral theologian am not free to read into what Jesus said anything that in any way contradicts what Jesus himself said to his disciples (including Peter) just an hour or so earlier that same evening. Before leaving the Upper Room, Jesus told his disciples that after he left this earth (still future when Jesus rebuked Peter in Gethsemane) they should carry with them and be prepared to use weapons of deadly force to defend as necessary against attack (Lk 22:36). This does not mean Christians should enjoy fighting or should go around stirring up wars. But neither does it mean Christians may never use deadly force or should never participate in fighting wars for any reason.

Finally, we must not forget that Jesus of the New Testament is also God of the Old Testament. Because the character of God never changes (Ps 102:27; Mal 3:6; Jas 1:17), this means the moral character of Jesus cannot be different than it always had been and always will be-without variation. So, if God in the Old Testament approved Just War (as in Deuteronomy 20 and Amos 1), then so did Jesus in the New Testament. This is an important part of the essential doctrine affirmed about Jesus in the book of Hebrews, which is that “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever” (Heb 13:8).

I believe that Jesus of the New Testament is God of the Old Testament. I believe that the moral character of Jesus in the New Testament is unchanged from what it was in the Old Testament. I believe that as God did not teach Pacifism in the Old Testament so Jesus did not teach Pacifism in the New Testament. And so we end where we started. I am not a Pacifist simply and only out of fidelity to the life and teaching of Jesus Christ himself as faithfully witnessed and recorded in the Bible itself.

Book Notice: “Invitation to Biblical Interpretation” by Andreas J. Köstenberger

Zut Alors. I will never catch up with Andreas Köstenberger. Every time I publish an article, he publishes four books. (In fact, one should never compare one’s CV with his, for fear that one will descend into a state of weltschmerz. Don’t say I never told you.) Speaking of which, Dr. Köstenberger recently published Invitation to Biblical Interpretation: Exploring the Hermeneutical Triad of History, Literature, and Theology (Kregel, 2011). This work promises to be a valuable resource for pastors, teachers, and students for years to come. In keeping with our recent tradition on Between the Times, we asked Dr. Köstenberger a few questions about the book.

1. Tell us a bit about yourself, your family, and your ministry.

I’ve taught at Southeastern for 15 years and have directed our Ph.D. program for over a decade. My wife Marny and I have 4 children, 3 of whom are teenagers, which is at once a great joy and a serious God-given responsibility. I love teaching, writing, and, yes, administration! I also serve as Director of Acquisitions for B&H Academic and edit the Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society. If you want to know more, or simply keep up, please check out my new, updated website at follow me on Twitter @akostenberger.

2. What was the impetus for writing this book? And why did you feel the need to write it?

Interpreting the Bible accurately is one of the most important responsibilities every Christian has, and is especially important for those who teach and preach God’s Word to others. Ever since I became a Christian, God has given me a burden to excel in this area and to pass on what I’ve learned to others, especially to those entrusted with the preaching ministry in our local churches. Too often, I’ve sat in the pews and have seen preachers fall short in this area. In my years of teaching biblical interpretation at the college, graduate, and doctoral levels, I’ve had a hard time finding a book that’s fully congenial to the way I teach and students best learn in my experience. Invitation to Biblical Interpretation is the product of 10 years of work in collaboration with my contributor, Dick Patterson, who is a seasoned Old Testament scholar and one of the wisest, godliest, and most erudite men I know.

3. What is the primary argument of the book?

In the book, we teach that, no matter what the type of literature you’re dealing with, you should look at the passage’s historical background, literary context, and theological message. I call this the “hermeneutical triad”-history, literature, and theology. When exploring the “literature” aspect of the triad, I recommend that students look at the canonical, genre-related, and linguistic features of the passage.

4. What, above all, do you wish for readers to know and/or do because of the book?

I would encourage them to adopt the hermeneutical triad as their basic method of study-looking at the history, literature, and theology found in a given passage. To that end, the final chapter of the book (thanks to my colleague and friend Scott Kellum) provides practical tips on how to preach from the different biblical genres and guidance on what the best biblical studies tools are and how to use them. On the Kregel website, there will also be chapter quizzes, a study chart, and a set of PowerPoints for teachers who will be using Invitation to Biblical Interpretation in the classroom.

Finally, we would like to point our readers to a sample reading of Invitation (including its endorsements) here, graciously made available by Westminster bookstore.

An Invitation to Study New Testament at Southeastern

It would be difficult to overstate the significance of the New Testament for the Christian faith, non? The New Testament continues the narrative begun in the Old Testament with the fourfold record of the birth, death, resurrection, and ascension of the promised and long-awaited Messiah of Israel, and so the world, Jesus. His message-that the kingdom of God is at hand, so all should repent and believe the gospel-was proclaimed by John the Baptist (see Mark 1) before him and by his disciples after him (see Matt 10:5-10). By gathering his 12 disciples, performing messianic signs (miracles), establishing the New Covenant (see Luke 22), promising the Holy Spirit (see John 14-16), dying and rising from the dead in accordance with the Scriptures (1 Cor 15:3-5; cf. Mark 8:31-32), and commissioning his disciples to carry forward his mission (Matt. 28:18-20; John 20:21-23), Jesus demonstrated that his gospel of the kingdom was the truth and that he was indeed the promised and long-awaited Messiah (John 20:30-31).

After the outpouring of the promised Holy Spirit (Acts 2), the promised inclusion of Gentiles into the people of God occurred (see Acts 8, 10) and the church expanded across the known world. Paul’s conversion and call continued this trajectory as he planted churches composed of Jews and Gentiles “in Christ” (see Eph 2:11-22). In the midst of his church planting and gospel work, Paul wrote epistles instructing believers on their history and destiny (e.g. Rom 8; Eph 1-2) and on how to live now in light of the “not yet” (e.g., 1 Cor 11:1; Phil 3:8-21). His colleagues Peter, James, John, Jude and the author of Hebrews joined him in writing letters which proclaim the same gospel but do so with beautiful diversity. Revelation then concludes the story of God’s faithful dealings with all of creation, summarizing his plan for his people in the new heavens and new earth (Rev. 21).

But how do we accurately interpret these books written many years ago? How do they fit together as a coherent and unified whole? How do they fit with the Old Testament testimony? How do they apply in a 21st century context? How can I preach through books of the New Testament, being faithful to the text but also communicating meaningfully to the multiple cultures and sub-cultures that surround me?

For those of you who seek answers to these types of questions, we invite you to come study with us at Southeastern. At Southeastern you will have the opportunity to study the New Testament in the original Greek and so be better equipped to minister to the people of God (see Eph 4:11-13) for the glory of God. In so doing, you will have the opportunity to study with the following men:

David Beck (Ph.D., Duke University) is Professor of New Testament and Greek and Associate Dean of Biblical Studies. He is the author of The Discipleship Paradigm: Readers and Anonymous Characters in the Fourth Gospel (Brill) and co-editor with fellow SEBTS Professor David Alan Black of Rethinking the Synoptic Problem (Baker). Dr. Beck manages to be, at the same time, both wickedly smart and enviably laid back.

David Black (D. Theol., University of Basel, Switzerland) is Professor of New Testament and Greek and author of Linguistics for Students of New Testament Greek: A Survey of Basic Concepts and Applications (Baker); Learn to Read New Testament Greek (Broadman & Holman); Why Four Gospels? (Kregel) and the author and editor of over 15 other books. Dr. Black is internationally renowned as a Greek scholar, is a member of the Studiorum Novi Testamenti Societas, and spends 3-4 months overseas per year working in Ethiopia and other countries.

Ed Gravely (Ph.D., Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary) is Assistant Professor of Biblical Studies and History of Ideas and wrote his Ph.D. dissertation on Codex Vaticanus under the supervision of Maurice Robinson, fellow SEBTS professor. Dr. Gravely is smart, funny, and articulate. He is one of the few textual critics alive who is not weird.

Scott Kellum (Ph.D., Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary) is Associate Professor of New Testament and Greek, author of The Unity of the Farewell Discourse: the Literary Integrity of John 13:31-16:33 (T&T Clark), and co-author with Andreas J. Köstenberger and Charles L. Quarles of The Cradle, the Cross, and the Crown: An Introduction to the New Testament (B&H). Dr. Kellum mastered classical Greek in college and koine Greek at the grad and post-grad level; if any other sort of Greek develops in the future, he’ll know that too.

Andreas Johannes Köstenberger (Ph.D., Trinity Evangelical Divinity School) is Senior Professor of New Testament and Biblical Theology and Director of Ph.D. Studies at Southeastern. He is the author, translator, and editor of more than 20 books including The Theology of John’s Gospel and Letters: The Word, the Christ, the Son of God (Zondervan); John, Baker Exegetical Commentary of the New Testament (Baker); co-author with L. Scott Kellum and Charles L. Quarles, The Cradle, the Cross, and the Crown: An Introduction to the New Testament (B&H); co-author with Michael Kruger, The Heresy of Orthodoxy (Crossway); God, Marriage, and Family: Restoring the Biblical Foundation with fellow SEBTS professor David Jones (Crossway). Dr. Köstenberger has written more books than most people have read, and he’s only mid-career. Scary.

David Lanier (Ph.D., Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary) is Professor of New Testament and served as Editor of Southeastern’s first journal, Faith and Mission 11/1 (Fall 1993) to 24/3 (Summer 2007). Dr. Lanier is a particularly amiable fellow, and is a history buff whose specialty is the Confederate War.

Benjamin Lee Merkle (Ph.D., The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary) is Associate Professor of New Testament and Greek and author of The Elder and Overseer: One Office in the Early Church (Peter Lang); 40 Questions About Elders and Deacons (Kregel), for which also he serves as Series Editor; Why Elders? A Biblical and Practical Guide (Kregel); and co-editor with fellow SEBTS professor John S. Hammett of Those Who Must Give an Account: A Study of Church Membership and Church Discipline (B&H, forthcoming). Dr. Merkle lived and taught in Malaysia for years and is known for being a thorough and efficient writer of theological prose. If he continues publishing at this rate, he might give Dr. Köstenberger a run for his money.

Maurice Robinson (Ph.D., Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary) is Senior Professor of New Testament and a renowned textual criticism scholar. He is the author of Analytical Lexicon to the Greek New Testament: Revised and Updated (Hendrickson, forthcoming). Dr. Robinson is a world-renowned textual critic, an accomplished guitarist, and is known to give a Bob Dylan impersonation that is “spot on.”

Southeastern offers several degrees with a focus on the New Testament. The Bachelor of Arts in Christian Studies with a minor in Biblical Studies introduces undergraduate students to the knowledge and skills central to the work of pastors, particularly in the area of Old and New Testament competency. The Master or Arts (Biblical Languages) prepares students to serve as translators and as field supervisors for Bible translation teams. The M.Div. with Pastoral Ministry prepares students for pastoral ministry in the local church with and is grounded in study of the Old and New Testament. The M.Div. with Christian Ministry offers the same strong core education while giving one freedom to pursue elective courses in the area of New Testament and Greek. The M.Div. with Advanced Biblical Studies offers the greatest opportunity for focus in New Testament and Greek exegesis, preparing one for a pastoral or teaching ministry. The Th.M. in Biblical Studies equips post-M.Div. students who want to enhance their theological training, either for preparation for doctoral study or as an advanced degree for service in the church. Students can take the thesis or non-thesis tracks under the supervision of a professor in the area of New Testament and Greek. Finally, the Ph.D. in Biblical Studies with a concentration in New Testament prepares students to teach New Testament, Greek, and other courses to college or seminary students, and to write about the interpretation and theology of the New Testament.

We invite you to study with our New Testament faculty in the B. A., M.Div., Th.M., or Ph.D. programs of Southeastern. For more info visit our website ( and check out the Admissions and Academics online mobile rpg