Does Jesus Demonstrate Threats and Violence?

Opinion is sharply divided among some believers on whether Jesus consistently promoted acceptance, peace, and love toward others or whether he sometimes demonstrated judgment, threats, and violence.

This leads some to consistently support peace, love, and compassion while others accept the validity of our judging others, using violence, and being revengeful. Some believers are very inclusive while others are very ‘us against our enemies–whoever they might be.

Both groups point to Jesus as their guide.

I think this is an extremely important issue, and I readily admit that I embrace nonviolence and loving all others with empathy, compassion, and care. But in this series I will try to be objective as we examine passages used to portray Jesus as judgmental, threatening, and violent.

Keep me honest, please.

Expulsion of the Money Changers

Luca Giordano Expulsion of the Money Changers mid-1670s

Jesus as Consistently Accepting and Nonviolent

Those who believe Jesus opposes judgment and violence embrace a number of passages in which Jesus demonstrates non-judgmental acceptance, compassion, and non-violence in both his teaching and example.

They emphasize Jesus’ statements that we ‘love our neighbor’, forgive others, and his specifically nonviolent instructions on how believers are to interact with oppressors. They call Jesus’ own example into play as he associates with ‘sinners and tax collectors’ and shows compassion for marginalized people—including adulterers and prostitutes—who do not live up to the holiness standards of the religious leaders of the day.

Jesus as Judgmental, Threatening, and Sometimes Violent

Those who see Jesus having a judgmental and threatening side point to his threats of hell and destruction. In terms of violence they refer to his clearing the temple of merchants and their animal stock and money tables.

They remind us that Jesus says he brings not peace but a sword, that he said on the eve of his arrest that two swords were enough for his little group, and that he also said his followers should sell their coats and buy swords. Does he not seem to be a leader prepared for his followers to do battle?

These believers contend that we must sometimes use violence for the cause of Jesus.

What is Your Opinion?

Which of these perspectives do you think is correct? Or are they somehow compatible with each other? If they are compatible, then how so?

In this series we will examine gospel texts to discover whether Jesus was judgmental, threatening, or violent. I am sure we have readers who represent both perspectives, so feel free to describe your thoughts in comments below. There may also be those who want to be sure we consider particular passages in the coming posts. I would really like for you to include those passages in comments as well; by doing so you will help shape the series.

If you have friends who have opinions either way, you may share this post with them so they can get involved if they wish.

Next time we begin with the first gospel passage—Jesus clearing the temple. I hope to see you there!

Articles in this series: Does Jesus Demonstrate Judgmentalism, Threats, and Violence?
Does Jesus Demonstrate Judgmentalism, Threats, and Violence?
Does the Cleansing of the Temple Show Jesus’ Violence? – I Don’t Think So
Addendum to the Cleansing of the Temple—What about the Fig Tree?
What Does it Mean that Jesus Brings, not Peace, but a Sword?
3 Possible Reasons Jesus Told His Followers to Carry Swords
Isn’t it Violence for Jesus to Tell Us to Cut off our Hands to Avoid Punishment?
Jesus’ Final Act of Anti-Violence—Crucifixion
This entry was posted in behavior, Jesus, judgment, love, love your enemies and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

55 Responses to Does Jesus Demonstrate Threats and Violence?

  1. Pingback: Does Jesus Demonstrate Judgmentalism, Threats, and Violence? — Jesus Without Baggage | Talmidimblogging

  2. tonycutty says:

    Jesus came to demonstrate that God was not all nasty and judgemental, as the religious people at the time (and today!) thought. If Jesus had portrayed judgement and nastiness, He’d have been portraying the very god (with a small ‘g’) for whom He came to change our perspective on.

    My article ‘Graven Image’ (here: http://tinyurl.com/or329dr) puts this nicely.

    The thing is that God is not like that, and therefore Jesus is not; also Jesus is not, therefore God is not. This looks like a circular argument, *except* that the circle is interpreted by Jesus’s actions. He went around fixing things. He went around making things better. And He also annoyed the religious authorities. Had He been portraying god as nasty, they would have loved Him. As it was, He portrayed God as nice and so they killed Him for it.

    We could even say that Jesus cared so much about His Father’s street cred as being a nice guy, that He died to show us that same self-sacrificial Love. Or, to put it another way, no ‘nasty’ god would have dreamed of dying for us, but Jesus did, and in so doing He showed us what Father God is really like. And the Resurrection vindicated Him as being completely right.

    Liked by 1 person

    • jesuswithoutbaggage says:

      Tony, I love your opening comment: “Jesus came to demonstrate that God was not all nasty and judgmental, as the religious people at the time (and today!) thought. If Jesus had portrayed judgment and nastiness, He’d have been portraying the very god (with a small ‘g’) for whom He came to change our perspective on.”

      You are right! If Jesus were judgmental, threatening, and violent he would have been exactly what many people of that day (and ours) already thought God was like–and they would have liked him. But this just the opposite of how Jesus presents God to us. What a contrast!

      It will be interesting to see how this discussion develops–especially as we look at the individual passages.

      Liked by 1 person

    • jesuswithoutbaggage says:

      By the way, Tony. I like your post ‘Graven Image’ that you linked in your comment.

      Liked by 1 person

      • tonycutty says:

        Thanks – it’ one of my favourites. It was actually inspired during a really good worship session; it just kind of downloaded into my head. I know you also once shared it as one of your favourite ‘spot of hte month’ things when it came out 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

  3. newtonfinn says:

    Superb topic! I’m sure I’ll wade in with my two cents, now and then, as the discussion develops, but let me begin by referencing Jesus’ teachings about tearing out one’s eye or cutting off one’s arm if they are the cause of sin, since it is better to lose one’s eye or arm than to have one’s entire body cast into the fire. Severe sayings like these–difficult, if not impossible, to take literally–seem to be hyperbolic, involving the use of vividly and shockingly exaggerated imagery to drive home a point not merely on the intellectual level but also on the deeper emotional level. Might there be something in Jesus’ harshest teachings akin to a father telling his child, to “scare the life out of him” to insure his safety, that if he runs into the street, he’ll be squashed into a pancake?

    Liked by 2 people

    • jesuswithoutbaggage says:

      Newton, I agree with you that this is hyperbole, which Jesus often used to make a strong point. I am glad you brought it up because it was not on my list of passages to discuss, and it should be. I am adding it to the list right now. Thanks!

      And I think some of Jesus’ ‘threats’ are not threats at all but warnings.

      I look forward to your further contributions as the series continues.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Chas says:

    Tim, as you know, I believe that all of the Bible was written by men for their own purposes, so we ought not to be surprised that the writer of the Gospel showed a Jesus who behaved intolerantly to the Pharisees and used violence against people whom he thought were being disrespectful to God. In regard to exaggeration for effect, as mentioned by newtonfinn above, several instances have been shown to me where this has opened the door for someone to mock the shortcomings he thought someone else had. Exaggeration is a form of lie, so we can be sure that Jesus would not have done this.

    Liked by 2 people

    • jesuswithoutbaggage says:

      Chas, I agree with you that Jesus’ confrontations with the Pharisees were emphasized because of the interests of the author. I will likely mention that, but I think there is more going on there as well.

      Regarding exaggeration, I don’t see it as an attempt to deceive but more as a rhetorical device that the listeners probably understood but which is not so easily understood by today’s readers–especially literalist readers.

      Like

      • Chas says:

        Tim, the dictionary definition of rhetoric carries the implication that it uses exaggeration, or insincerity to persuade or impress listeners. Thus it is an attempt to confuse by using lies. I do not believe that Jesus would have used anything other than the simple truth to influence the minds of his listeners

        Like

        • jesuswithoutbaggage says:

          Chas, I was using ‘rhetorical’ simply as a tool of speech–not in its negative connotations. In my reading of the gospels, it seems apparent that Jesus did use various tools of speech appropriate to his time–including hyperbole. This form of exaggeration is not meant to mislead but to make a strong point. It is true that they might mislead some modern readers, but they are not Jesus’ audience. His audience would have understood his form of speaking.

          Jesus also used parables which many readers today mistake for straight-forward speech because they don’t sufficiently understand parable. But Jesus’ parables were not meant to mislead. Jesus used other speech devices as well; he was a gifted speaker.

          Liked by 1 person

          • newtonfinn says:

            Setting up the dichotomy of lie vs. truth, and insisting that a teaching of Jesus fall into one category or the other, can become a form of biblical literalism. A principal theme of Jesus’ teaching was a rejection of such literalism, the interpretive approach selectively employed by the priests and scribes to confine scripture to its letter at the expense of its spirit.

            Casting aside all casuistry, Jesus claims that all of the law and all of the prophets, the entirety of the Jewish holy books, were contained in the two elemental commandments to love God and one’s neighbor, a claim that itself is an example of hyperbole used to impress a fundamental spiritual truth into minds of the audience.

            Jesus pushed traditional Jewish teachings, extending them into new territory toward which their letter pointed–“You have heard it said, but I say to you….” Accordingly, I have come to believe that Christians are free to interpret the Second Testament in the same manner that Jesus interpreted the First, that following Him includes the exercise of this freedom. If If we are to have eyes that see and ears that hear, spirit must control letter.

            On a separate note, I have always wondered about Jesus’ description of hell in the parable of the rich man and Lazarus. Note that the rich man is indeed “heat-afflicted,” but not so much that he can’t carry on a conversation with Abraham. And is it not interesting, in light of the revived interest in mediumship and other communications with the dead, that Abraham observes that if the rich man’s brothers won’t listen to the law and the prophets, they won’t listen to Lazarus’ words “from the other side?”

            Liked by 1 person

          • jesuswithoutbaggage says:

            Newton, you said this very well.

            Like

          • Chas says:

            Tim, you are making the assumption that we have the actual words that Jesus spoke. It is my contention that we do not have his words, only those that men supposed he would have said. Parables do not clarify, they make obscure; if that were not so, they would not have had to explain any of them. I still contend that Jesus would have spoken simply and concisely.

            Liked by 1 person

          • jesuswithoutbaggage says:

            That’s ok, Chas. We see this issue differently.

            Like

          • mark says:

            I must agree with Chas here Tim…..no offense intended friend!
            It is true we only have a written account of what Jesus said..years or .decades after the fact. To ignore this simple PROVEN fact is to ignore reality and TRUTH.
            While the Bible may be inspired…men who sought to understand God , we must also understand that we are taking the words of men whom may or may not have lived many years after the FACT and who where not privy nor first hand witnesses to the events. these same men whom we read of their “Gospels” never met CHRIST and most certainly were NOT Matthew Mark Luke nor John…they wrote their treaties much the same way as Samuel Clemmons did…the man we all know as Mark Twain. . The only contemporary writings we have..(Proven by Biblical analysis of theologians and researchers) are the writings of the supposed follower Paul whom also claimed to be an Apostle, yet never met him nor knew his story of virgin birth or of His ministry until after the fact. Yet Paul in his own words claims to be a contemporary of Jesus and also of the Temple and it’s processes and law of the same time period. Yet he knew not of Jesus nor of Jesus’s ministry nor of his supposed miracles?..!. I find that strange…do you not?

            While we can all sit back and claim we only follow Jesus and His teachings..we only adhere to the RED or Blue letters in the NT as our guide…..after nearly 6 decades of searching thru the materials of theology and various studies still we have not a clue nor a coherent idea of what the Man taught…..other than what Judeo-Christianity claims it is.

            After nearly 6 decades of the Bull and poppy-cock shell game of lies and distortion maybe we ALL need to stop and think things out from a intelligent prospective instead of one from BLIND FAITh…which by the way offers no proof nor substance for the seeker of GOD.

            Like

          • mark says:

            Seems my word editor program left out an entire sentence. I had said..”after nearly 6 decades of searching thru the materials of theology and various studies..” hmmmm…seems I may need a new word type program to go with this NEW OS I am using.

            Like

          • jesuswithoutbaggage says:

            No offense taken Mark. People ought to be able to say when they disagree.

            I do agree with you that the contents of the gospels were transmitted orally for decades before being written down and do not represent what Jesus said word-for-word. But I probably have a bit more confidence in the oral transmission than you express. I suspect three of the gospels reflect the long-time preaching of original witness–John, and perhaps Matthew and Peter (Mark).

            Each of these original witnesses would have emphasized what impacted them about Jesus’ teaching and deeds rather than preserving precise wordings. Together, the gospels (synoptics + John) present a remarkably consistent portrait of Jesus, even while they include issues related to the authors’ current situations.

            This is somewhat speculative, of course, but so is the theory that Jesus’ words passed from mouth-to mouth-to mouth and are of little integrity. I consider finding Jesus teachings a complex question, but not a futile one.

            Like

          • jesuswithoutbaggage says:

            Mark, I inserted your sentence into your comment. Did I insert it correctly? Please clarify and I will try to restore your flow.

            Like

          • Chas says:

            I am reminded of the (almost certainly untrue!) story from WWI, of a message being sent that said: ‘Send reinforcements, we’re going to advance’. Once it had been relayed down the front line via several repetitions, its recipient was told: ‘Send three and fourpence (i.e. three shillings and four pence), we’re going to a dance!’

            Liked by 1 person

          • jesuswithoutbaggage says:

            Chas, I like your funny story. This works for more than just party games, but I don’t think it applies in the same degree to the stories of Jesus.

            Like

          • mark says:

            Tim …my apologies sir, didn’t mean to imply folks had no say so or no right to disagree…..correct words often leave me when I try to convey a thought.

            Like

          • mark says:

            Tim ..the decade comments were of my searching thruout my life of truth…my decades….Even my time in the Ministry……It did not come out like what I wanted to say…please chunk those thoughts and I do hope nobody was offended at my mere brain flatulence in regards to that.

            With Love Brother.

            Like

          • jesuswithoutbaggage says:

            Hi Mark. I think you made valid points, and I don’t think you offended anyone. I would hate to delete you comments, though I will if you insist. Alternately, if you can send a revision of your comments as you prefer them I am happy to revise the original comments.

            Like

    • Steve says:

      Hi Chas!

      You got me wondering… If everything written in the Bible is suspect because it was pressed through and tainted by the personal agendas of the various authors, then what do we say should be the criteria for demonstrating the truth?

      We can’t use historical textual criticism because it doesn’t see inside the minds of the writers to discern their actual intent. Plus, then we’re just dealing with subjective analysis tainted by the personal agendas of those scholars.

      Even with science, when we have physical evidence from, say, ANE archaeology (like human remains, man-made items, structures, etc). much would still be suspect because these things too, would pressed through and tainted by the subjective interpretation of humans with agendas.

      What do you think should be the criteria for demonstrating the truth? How do we take subjective analyses of events or phenomena order to determine what we can trust is true?

      Liked by 1 person

      • Chas says:

        Steve, I agree with you that even textual criticism is subject to the personal views of the analyst. In Spiritual matters, only God can show you what is the truth (the Bible refers to this action as a function of the Holy Spirit, or Spirit of Truth, because this is man’s way of understanding it). Regarding physical evidence, this can be interpreted by a rigorous use of the Scientific Method, but even this can only show you what might be true. It does not show conclusively that it is true, only that it appears to be true by current understanding. Even in the use of this method we have to rely on the integrity of the experimenter, since many of these are influenced by their sponsors, or they have already made up their mind which way they think the evidence will point, or which way they want it to point. So the lie, or deliberate untruth can easily unhinge what appears to be true.

        Like

  5. I once heard an interesting take on the topic – Jesus was judgemental to those who should have known better. He was kind and non-judgmental to those who had no clue. In other words, context mattered even for Jesus.

    Liked by 2 people

    • monica thompson says:

      This! Jesus judged people where they were, not where others thought they should be. That’s why most of his judgement was towards leaders and mercy to those who were beaten down by life

      Liked by 2 people

      • jesuswithoutbaggage says:

        Monica, I like your thinking.

        Like

        • Thank you. The way this week has gone I’m surprised I still am thinking, but I try. But it’s kind of how I’ve seen Good deal with me at points in my life. When I do something stupid because I don’t know better or understand, the consequences seem to be enough to teach me better… No more, no less. But when I do something I know is wrong or not showing God’s love, the consequences tend to be a lot harsher. Because regardless of whether the people in my life know a difference, God does.

          Liked by 1 person

          • jesuswithoutbaggage says:

            Yes! God knows.

            Like

          • Chas says:

            Monica, if you do something because you do not know better, or understand, that is not stupid, but mistaken. If we do something that we know is wrong then we are deliberately disobeying God, who is telling us that He/She does not want us to do that, to prevent the suffering that we will experience (or cause to someone else) if we do it.

            Like

    • jesuswithoutbaggage says:

      Luther, I like it!: “Jesus was judgmental to those who should have known better.” I agree, but what was the nature or level of his judgment? I think this is an important question not often considered.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. Charlotte Robertson says:

    I think we also have to take everything into the context of the time, the way people spoke, the culture of the day etc. Also, we cannot see Jesus’ facial expression or hear his intonation. But compared to the teachings of the OT, where it was normal to want to exterminate the enemy, Jesus’ words were full of compassion and love and peace.

    Liked by 1 person

    • jesuswithoutbaggage says:

      Charlotte, you bring up a very good point that I think applies to a lot of Jesus’ words–we cannot witness Jesus’ expression or tone. This makes a great difference in understanding Jesus’ interactions. If we imagine the tone incorrectly, we develop mistaken conclusions as to his meaning and attitude.

      Thanks for bringing this up.

      Like

  7. Ken Lynch says:

    Jesus held those in authority to a higher standard and reserved his strongest criticism for the religious leaders of his time. I’m reminded that he means me. As a church leader, I’m held to that higher standard. So I have to be careful that I don’t add burdens to those who come to Jesus to have their burdens lightened.

    As far as the two swords on the night of his arrest. Doesn’t the passage make it clear that Jesus rebukes them for drawing the swords? He asked if they carried any so that he could demonstrate that his way was not the world’s way. Written after the event, I think that the Gospel writer wanted us to see that Jesus knew his disciples were ready to fight for him, but his kingdom is not of this world. I don’t understand how anyone who reads the entire story in context thinks this is a call for us to arm ourselves.

    Liked by 1 person

    • jesuswithoutbaggage says:

      Ken, I really like your take on the swords at Jesus’ arrest. I agree.

      I also agree with your thought that Jesus directed his criticism specifically to the Pharisees. And who uses Jesus’ words of criticism to criticize others today–mostly religious leaders who are out of touch with Jesus’ broad acceptance of people. In fact, they are religious leaders who act very much as the Pharisees did in Jesus’ day.

      I am not speaking of all religious leaders though. And, as you say, all of us who are religious leaders should take notice and not increase the burdens of the people whom Jesus loved so much.

      Like

  8. robstanback says:

    John Dominic Crossan recently wrote an entire book dedicated to your topic, except that he applies it to the entire Bible. We are reading the book in our Sunday school class in anticipation of hearing Crossan speak next month. It is newly out in paperback and titled: “How to Read the Bible & Still Be a Christian: Is God Violent? An Exploration from Genesis to Revelation”. I recommend it.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. michaeleeast says:

    It’s not hard to guess that i believe Jesus promotes non-violence.
    The only real passage where he is physically violent is in cleansing the temple.
    But he doesn’t actually hurt anyone.
    Other passages are metaphorical or hyperbole.
    There are other passages where he is against violence.
    When Pontius Pilate interrogates him he specifically states that his followers did not fight.
    I believe that the non-violent argument is far more consistent with the spirit of his teachings.
    Gentle Jesus meek and mild for me.

    Liked by 1 person

    • jesuswithoutbaggage says:

      Michael, I agree with you at every point. I think Jesus was sometimes very straight with some Pharisees, but he was not violent or threatening.

      Like

      • newtonfinn says:

        He certainly wielded the sharpest of swords in dealing with those who exploited their power and authority, but it was a spiritual weapon. Despite the torrent of social criticism that surrounds us today (much of it entirely justified), we seem to have lost the power of the Jewish prophetic tradition, in which “the word” is “the act.”

        I think that biblical scholars may have overlooked something vitally important about Jesus, an observation that appears repeatedly in the gospel accounts–that “he spoke with authority, unlike the scribes,” or that “no man ever spoke like this.” This extraordinary communicative ability of Jesus is also reflected in his calls to discipleship of Peter, Andrew, James, John, Matthew, etc., and their immediate, unequivocal responses.

        The constant refrain we hear today, from those who see and feel the horrors of our vicious and violent world, is “what can I do?” If only we had His commanding yet compassionate voice to direct us and energize us. Or is it that we still have that voice, discernible in the careful study of scripture and in our personal religious experience informed by that study, but that too few of us take the time to seek out the voice and to listen?

        To return to Jesus’ being or not being “judgmental, threatening, and/or violent,” let me provide a link to an essay I put on my neglected blog several years ago. It’s a Christmas piece that might contribute to the conversation.

        https://newtonfinn.com/2011/12/15/the-harder-edge-of-christmas/

        Liked by 1 person

        • jesuswithoutbaggage says:

          Newton, I really enjoyed your post, and it had a couple excellent statement summaries:

          * “Had he stuck with compassion and skipped the conflict, he would have been loved by the masses and tolerated by the leaders, but he refused to be a band-aid.”

          * “Whether we like it or not, the Gospels call us to a life of both compassion and conflict.”

          I agree we are in conflict with the empire system, its values, and its methods. This is not a political conflict, but a conflict of cultures. While we are to be good citizens of our governments, our first allegiance is to the kingdom of God. Sometimes this means calling out religious leaders who have become more of a legalistic government than followers of Jesus.

          Liked by 1 person

  10. Alan C says:

    I think it’s significant that, at the outset of his ministry in Luke, when he reads Isaiah 61:1-2 he omits the phrase “and the day of vengeance of our God.” Besides the overall tendency of Jesus in the Gospels to preach love and non-violence, I’d also point out the tendency of the Church in the first couple centuries or so to practice pacifism.

    Liked by 1 person

    • jesuswithoutbaggage says:

      Alan, I think you are absolutely right! Jesus laid a lot of significance by Isaiah 61 as the introduction to his mission, and yet he seems to have purposefully omitted the day of vengeance; it was not part of his mission.

      Like

      • Alan C says:

        That’s only one of several passages where it seems to me Jesus plays fast and loose with the OT, which I think is another argument against the inerrancy model.

        Liked by 2 people

        • jesuswithoutbaggage says:

          I agree, Alan. Some people say that Jesus confirms the inerrancy of the OT by quoting it so much. But if one pays attention they will find that Jesus used OT passages for his own purposes in a way that is not consistent with inerrancy–or sometimes even in its ‘plain’ meaning.

          Like

  11. Pingback: Does Jesus Bring Peace—or a Sword? | Jesus Without Baggage

  12. Pingback: Does the Cleansing of the Temple Show Jesus’ Violence? – I Don’t Think So | Jesus Without Baggage

  13. Pingback: Addendum to the Cleansing of the Temple—What about the Fig Tree? | Jesus Without Baggage

  14. Pingback: 3 Possible Reasons Jesus Told His Followers to Carry Swords | Jesus Without Baggage

  15. Pingback: Isn’t it Violence for Jesus to Tell Us to Cut off our Hands to Avoid Punishment? | Jesus Without Baggage

  16. Pingback: Jesus’ Final Act of Anti-Violence—Crucifixion | Jesus Without Baggage

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