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What does the Bible say about terrorism?

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The Bible doesn’t directly address the topic of terrorism, at least not the type of terrorism we think of in the modern world. True “terrorism” is an attempt to incite fear, shock, and panic in a target population through the use of violence. The goal of acts of terrorism is to bully a government or culture into cooperating with the demands of the terrorists. In some cases, the carnage is inflicted for its own sake or as a punishment or an act of revenge.

Many of the weapons used in modern terror attacks did not exist in biblical times, such as explosives, chemical weapons, and firearms. News of an attack would travel slowly in ancient times and only by oral or written descriptions. The ability to inflict sudden, catastrophic damage combined with the rapid spread of news—especially in graphic pictures and videos—has made terrorism as we know it today possible. These capabilities did not exist in biblical times, and so neither did modern-style terrorism. However, Old Testament statements about Israel’s responsibilities during war, scriptural comments about those who target the innocent, and the general sense of Christian morality all speak against what we would today define as “terrorism.”

Ancient armies were far more likely to deliberately target innocents; in fact, the idea of avoiding women and children during war was all but unheard of in the ancient Near East. However, Israel was given explicit instructions for warfare that greatly humanized their military operations. Soldiers were given the option to return home if they were newly married, afraid, or otherwise unready for warfare. They were not encouraged to suicidally throw themselves into battle (Deuteronomy 20:5–8). Israel was commanded to offer peace—and with it a warning—to a city prior to any attack (Deuteronomy 20:10). This procedure not only left room for peace, but it gave non-combatants an opportunity to flee prior to the battle.

Israel was not encouraged to go out of their way to attack civilians instead of soldiers, as modern terrorism does. And the Israelites were frequently reminded that their limited, one-time-only orders to attack were based on the wickedness of their enemy, not their own superiority (Deuteronomy 9:4–6).

The Bible also expresses a strong condemnation for the shedding of innocent blood. Over and over, the Scriptures condemn those who use violence against the helpless and inoffensive (Deuteronomy 27:25; Proverbs 6:16–18). Those who use common terrorist tactics such as attacking non-combatants and trying to inspire terror are also rebuked (Jeremiah 7:6; 19:4; 22:3, 17). Even on a small scale, using ambush tactics in order to kill those one hates is treated as murder (Deuteronomy 19:11).

This theme is continued in the New Testament, where Christians are explicitly told not to use bloodshed in an attempt to defend Christ (Matthew 26:52). Attempts to violently overthrow or influence the government are also off-limits (Romans 13:1). Rather, Christians are to overcome evil through good (Romans 12:21).

All in all, terrorism is simply incompatible with a biblical worldview. Opposition to terrorism is expressed both in the Old and New Testaments. The principles apply both to nations and to individual people. The Bible does not explicitly address the 21st-century concept of terrorism, but it clearly condemns everything about it.

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This page last updated: November 11, 2022