Mark Driscoll, pastor of Mars Hill Church in Seattle, wrote a short article addressing a common misperception of the 6th commandment “You shall not murder”. Mark is specifically addressing pacifism and idea that some hold that violence is never justified.
A significant part of this idea comes from the conflation, in certain translations and continuing as a belief of some, of “murder” and “kill”.
Part of the confusion stems from the fact that some older translations of the Bible, most notably the King James Version, have translated the command using the word “kill,” which could lead to the misconception that all killing is always prohibited: “Thou shalt not kill.” However, the best modern translations, including the ESV, NASB, NIV, and others, use the word “murder.”
Our English Bible is accurate and reliable, but it’s interesting to note that the original Hebrew version of Exodus 20:13 is just two simple words, comparable to “No murder.” The first word is not debated, but the second word—ratsah in Hebrew—is more complicated. Biblical scholar Alan Cole explains that this word “is a comparatively rare word for ‘kill,’ and usually implies violent killing of a personal enemy . . . ‘murder’ is a good translation.” However, ratsah does go beyond the English meaning of “murder,” as the ESV footnote points out: “The Hebrew word also covers causing human death through carelessness or negligence.”
Mark then goes on to contrast pacifist non-violence with things God commanded the Israelites to do in the Old Testament, teachings of Jesus and Paul in the New Testament, and the foreseen end of the world in Revelation, illustrating that while we serve the Prince of Peace, He is still a holy God who cannot co-exist with sin and evil and so will act with retributive and final justice at the time of His choosing to wipe away all that opposes Him in a final bloody conflict, a characteristic quite different from the “European, long-haired, dress-wearing, hippie Jesus” we learn about in Sunday School.
Driscoll ends with this:
Today is a season of patience as Jesus Christ waits for people to come to repentance. Jesus is not a pansy or a pacifist; he’s patient. He has a long wick, but the anger of his wrath is burning.
Once the wick is burned up, he is saddling up on a white horse and coming to slaughter his enemies and usher in his kingdom. Blood will flow.
Then there will be peace forever as the Prince of Peace takes his rightful throne. Some of those whose blood will flow as high as the bit in a horse’s mouth for 184 miles will be those who did not repent of their sin but did wrongly teach that Jesus was a pacifist.
Jesus is no one to mess with.
Jonathan Merritt at Religion News Service took this article and passed it around to several prominent Christian pacifists and published their responses without much comment.
I found the first comment on the to be misinformed, based on what many detractors claim about Pastor Driscoll, and not indicating a personal awareness of his teachings and methods and message. The commenter makes a very nice straw man and then whacks it down having apparently never read the linked article, nor much else by Pastor Driscoll.
I’ve watched several complete series of Driscoll’s sermons and heard many of these words myself, and it becomes clear he uses hyperbole, irony, tongue-in-cheek, and a very direct manner to communicate in a way that leaves little doubt what precisely he means and intends. Like Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove, the last “pacifist” quoted in the article says: “(Mark) knows what he thinks, and he makes it plain.”
Driscoll does not advocate for open and continual war with any and all comers. He does not say we ought to walk around ready to blast the heads off of anybody who gives us the stink eye. There’s no place in the sermon where he argues we ought to walk around with fists balled and menacing faces displaying our “Christianity”. (All that previously was a handy straw man).
Reading the article Driscoll shows there is a difference between “murder” and “killing”, that there are places where killing is justified and even appropriate, and that there is never a time when “murder” is justified or appropriate. He shows this throughout the Old and New Testaments and then ends with a description from Revelation of the end of times battle. Whether you take Revelation literally or figuratively, we can agree that evil and sin and the Devil and his demons will not go quietly into the night. Faced with the final choice, once and for all, obviously and visibly different from the final choices each and every one who has died before the end of times had, people and the gods they represent will fight for their lives against God the Almighty Father, God the Indwelling Spirit, and God the Victorious Son.
Preston Sprinkle sees fit to call Driscoll’s reading of Revelation “Hal Lindsay-like”, but I’d ask Preston by what argument he thinks Satan the deceiver will lay down his arms willingly and peacefully when faced with his ultimate and eternal extinction?
Sarah Withrow King says that Christ taught us “retributive violence is no longer the moral code of the day”, and I agree, and there’s nothing in Driscoll’s article that indicates he disagrees. But retributive violence is not the moral code for us not because it is invalid, but because God the Just Judge has reserved that right to Himself. Vengeance is mine, He says, but not so He can gloss over the many sins, the blood of the martyrs, the tears of the saints, or the groaning of all creation that has been so defiled. No, vengeance is His because He WILL repay. Not that I desire that any should perish, but that those who go to their graves having defamed the name of our Great God and spat in His face in life will face His just vengeance.
In short, I find the pacifists have found convenient myths to latch onto and combat about Pastor Driscoll’s sermon, but have indicated both their failures to understand what he was saying, and the paucity of their own convictions.