Word Study #117 — War, Warfare,Fighting

I hope that the folks who were asking for this study did not expect some sort of simplistic answer. Many such “answers” have been promoted throughout history, none of which are supported by exhaustive examination of the text. It should raise questions in the minds of thinking people, that during the first three centuries of the Christian church, military involvement was grounds for expulsion from the group. That policy was only changed under Constantine – the military conqueror. Biblically, even as early as John the Baptist (Lk.3:14), soldiers asking for guidance were told, “Do violence to no one!” (Can you imagine an army operating like that?)

References to these concepts include two primary word-families. The most common includes strateia – “warfare” – (2x), strateuomai – “to make war” – (7x), stratiotes – “soldier” – (26x), strateuma – army – (8x), antistrateuomai – “to make war against” – (1x), sustratiotes – “fellow-soldier” – (2x), and stratiologeo – “to enlist or recruit” – (1x). Although the people mentioned as “soldiers” are invariably members of the occupying Roman legions (only one of whom, a subordinate of Cornelius – Ac.10:7 – is described as “devout”), and “centurions”, (commanders of 100 soldiers) appear 24x, the “warfare”, both strateia (n.) (II Cor.10:4 and I Tim.1:18) and strateuomai (v.) (II Cor.10:3, I Tim.1:18, Jas.4:1, I Pet.2:12), refers entirely to the spiritual struggle to live in faithfulness – or, in the latter two instances, the forces against which that struggle is engaged.
Paul does use the unwavering, primary loyalty and obedience required of military personnel as an illustration of the absolute commitment required of Kingdom citizens (II Tim.2:4), and in arguing for the support of persons assigned a particular task (I Cor.9:7), but he certainly does not endorse signing up for Caesar’s legions! His speaking of Epaphroditus (Phil.2:25) and Archippus (Phm.2) as “fellow-soldiers” is parallel to calling others “co-workers” and “fellow-servants/slaves.”

The most salient reference in this “family” is II Cor.10:3-4: “Although we are living as (ordinary) humans, we are not doing battle by those standards. The weapons of our battle are not (merely) human, but powerful, by means of God ….(v.5) subjugating every mind [thought] for obedience to Christ.” Our “warfare” is to subjugate our own minds, not other people!

Second in frequency is the use of polemeo (7x) and polemos (16x). These references are divided among “ordinary” strife between kingdoms or nations (Mt.24:6, Mk.13:7, Lk.21:9; Lk.14:31, I Cor.14:8), conflict between people (Jas.4:1,2) – which James matter-of-factly attributes to human selfishness , and, predominately in the Revelation, various phases of the cosmic struggle between good and evil. Please notice that NONE OF THESE WARS ARE INITIATED OR FOUGHT BY PEOPLE! The perpetrators are: the Beast (Rv.11:7, 13:4,13:7), the Dragon (Rv.12:17), “the spirits of demons” and Satan (Rv.16:14, 20:8) who gather kings, but no actual battle is recorded, and a horde of locusts (Rv.9:7-9). When (19:19-20) the Beast has kings and their armies assembled for battle, they are all destroyed by divine intervention. And when the Lamb conquers other kings who are allied with the Beast it is NOT because he and his companions are so “rough and tough and mean” or armed with superior weaponry, but (17:14) “Because he is Lord of Lords and King of Kings, and those with him are called, and chosen, and faithful!” His only weapon is “the sword of his mouth” (Rv.2:16 and19:21, and see also Eph.6:17).

Note also that there is only one ever mentioned who “passes judgment and makes war in justice” (19:11) – the rider on the white horse, whose name (v.13) is “the Word of God”. (So much for “just wars.”)

Two other, less frequent terms deserve our notice. Mache / machomai , appearing 4x each, refer entirely to disputes between individuals. Translations usually tend toward “fight” or “strive”, to describe arguments among Jesus’ critics (Jn.6:52), disputes about the Law (Tit.3:9), “foolish discussions” (II Tim.2:23, 24), and fuss over possessions (Jas.4:1,2). All of these are to be avoided.

Agonizomai (7x) is otherwise primarily used of athletic contests, or contention in a court of law. Like its English cognate “agony”, it conveys the sense of intense effort. Paul’s messages, to Timothy regarding “fighting a good fight” (I Tim.6:12 and II Tim.4:7), and to the Colossians about the urgency of his prayers on their behalf (Col.1:29,4:12) are supplemented by Jesus’ instructions to “strive to enter the narrow gate” (Lk.13:24), and, strangely, his statement to Pilate of what his disciples would have done if his Kingdom “were of this world.” (Jn.18:36). This last was not, as is commonly supposed, a military statement. Agonizomai is never used of military action. Jesus’ people do not even engage in less-widespread violence, even in his – or their own – defense.

The references to weapons (hopla – 6x, and panoplia – 3x) are likewise instructive. Panoplia simply adds the prefix “pan” – “all”. Only in Jn.18:3, where it describes the armed officers who arrested Jesus, and Jesus’ parable in Lk.11:22, does the word refer to conventional weapons of war, in the New Testament. In Rom.6:13, Paul twice uses the secondary meaning of “tools or instruments”, regarding the proper use of one’s physical body. Elsewhere, he stresses that the “weapons” of which he speaks are a different kind: I Cor.10:4 – “not carnal [human]”, Rom.13:12 – “the armor of light”, II Cor.6:7 – “armor of justice [righteousness]” , and the classic passage in Ephesians 6:11 and 13-17.

Notice that the goal here is not conquest, domination, or even physical self-defense, but merely to “stand firm” (v.11). Truth (W.S.#26), justice (#3), the gospel (#67) of peace (#70), faithfulness (#1), and deliverance [salvation] (#5) are all defensive equipment; the only “offensive weapon” – the sword (see above) – is the Word of God.

It should be abundantly clear, therefore, that for citizens of Jesus’ Kingdom, although in this life conflict, oppression, and even apparent defeat appear to be a “given”, those citizens do not resort to the methods or the weapons of “normal” warfare. The outcome of the battle is assured, for those who are “called and chosen and faithful”, in the ultimate victory of the Lamb – the King of Kings and the Lord of Lords!

Thanks be to God!

One Response to Word Study #117 — War, Warfare,Fighting

  1. If only people would study the original language like you have done, how different the world would be. There would be no Christians in the military.

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