The Old Testament, to be sure, contains some hair-raising passages that seem very much opposed to religious freedom, but that’s part of the Mosaic law, which St. Paul’s epistles clearly and insistently establish is not comprehensively binding on Christians, but has been superseded, fulfilled, replaced by the higher ethical teachings of Jesus. The early Church never used violence.
Bryan disagreed. In fact, Bryan didn’t merely say, “I think this is slightly inaccurate.” No Bryan said, “Nathan grossly overstates the incompatibility between Christian doctrine and religious violence,” and then went on to write:
Yes, St. Paul did “clearly and insistently establish” that the Mosaic law “is not comprehensively binding on Christians.” But he focuses almost entirely on dietary requirements, circumcision, and the like. If Paul (or Jesus) meant to spearhead a culturally novel rejection of religious violence, he would have explicitly said so. And to make “The early Church never used violence” true, you would have to torturously gerrymander both who counts as “the Church” and when counts as “early.” [Emphasis in original.]
I must admit I was surprised by Bryan’s reaction, especially how confident he was with his claims. I’m going to list a bunch of Bible passages referring to the views of Jesus and Paul, but first I like how Joseph Porter in the comments responded to Bryan’s claim about the early Church:
…I am not aware of any violence perpetrated by any Christian—Orthodox or not—between the time of Jesus’ death (AD 30/33) and the rise of Constantine almost 300 years later. (The earliest Christians, in fact, certainly sound quite opposed to violence.) And I’d say “any self-identified Christian” and “almost 300 years” aren’t tortuous construals of “the Church” and “early.” Of course, my knowledge of the early Church is not encyclopedic—do you have some particular act (or acts) of violence in mind committed by “the early Church”?
Regarding Jesus, there are a bunch of things I could cite, but just some obvious ones:
==> From the Sermon on the Mount He taught, “Blessed are the meek,” “Blessed are those who show mercy,” “Blessed are the peacemakers,” and let’s quote this one in full: “Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. 12 Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.”
And then we must quote in full starting at verse 38:
38 “You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’[h] 39 But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also. 40 And if anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, hand over your coat as well. 41 If anyone forces you to go one mile, go with them two miles. 42 Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you.
43 “You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor[i] and hate your enemy.’ 44 But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45 that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. 46 If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? 47 And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? 48 Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.
Does Bryan really think Jesus needed to say, “By the way, if you encounter someone who doesn’t proclaim that I am Lord, I don’t want you to stab him”?
And in one of my most favored Bible passages, where we see the combination of Jesus as both merciful and an irresistible force, He rebukes Peter for drawing his sword when the mob assembled by the chief priests comes to arrest Him (after Judas led them there). Here’s what Jesus had to say about Peter using violence to try to prevent this injustice:
52 “Put your sword back in its place,” Jesus said to him, “for all who draw the sword will die by the sword. 53 Do you think I cannot call on my Father, and he will at once put at my disposal more than twelve legions of angels?
If you’re just skimming and the above didn’t do anything for you, you need to stop and re-read it. That passage makes my eyes water.
Now you might say, “Well that’s not really fair Bob, because sure Jesus can call down angels but we can’t. What did Jesus tell His followers to do when they encountered non-Christians?”
Try this passage:
16 “I am sending you out like sheep among wolves. Therefore be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves. 17 Be on your guard; you will be handed over to the local councils and be flogged in the synagogues. 18 On my account you will be brought before governors and kings as witnesses to them and to the Gentiles.
And how is the world to identify a follower of Christ? “By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”
But here’s the clincher. Jesus did do exactly what Bryan wanted. Look at this story from Luke 9:
51 As the time approached for him to be taken up to heaven, Jesus resolutely set out for Jerusalem. 52 And he sent messengers on ahead, who went into a Samaritan village to get things ready for him; 53 but the people there did not welcome him, because he was heading for Jerusalem. 54 When the disciples James and John saw this, they asked, “Lord, do you want us to call fire down from heaven to destroy them?” 55 But Jesus turned and rebuked them.
Is it any surprise to the reader of the book of Luke by this point that Jesus would have rebuked James and John for such a ridiculous suggestion? Would it not have been monstrously out of character for Him to agree with their idea?
As far Paul, read this one-and-three-quarters chapters on what he thinks about the people of Israel who have not accepted Christ. It’s too long for me to quote, but it’s impossible to read that and think violence is acceptable against non-believers.
For one thing, if you believe in Christ and are saved, you can’t be proud of yourself (according to Paul). You deserved hell as much as anybody who rejects Christ. So it would be weird to think that gives you the moral authority to kill somebody on that account. In any event, though you should click the link to get the full spirit of it, here’s how he wraps up. In context he is explaining how God is letting (some) Gentiles come to Christ to be saved, in order to goad the Israelites to come home:
Just as you who were at one time disobedient to God have now received mercy as a result of their disobedience, 31 so they too have now become disobedient in order that they too may now[t] receive mercy as a result of God’s mercy to you. 32 For God has bound everyone over to disobedience so that he may have mercy on them all.
So if you want to argue about the existence of hell and how arbitrary you think this system is, OK we can have that discussion, but there’s no way you could think Paul has left the door open for followers of Christ to spread the gospel with the sword.
UPDATE: It’s possible by “early Church” Bryan meant once the Catholic Church was up and running and had some earthly power. I could understand someone saying, “Oh sure, the Christians were all meek and humble when they were helpless, but once they had the ability they used violence to get their way.” Right, but my point is that just proves how humans are awful hypocrites. It doesn’t mean Jesus, Paul, or other writers in the New Testament were vague on using violence against non-believers.