Bishops Analyze the New Testament
During the 1980s when U.S. Catholic and United Methodist bishops conducted studies on nuclear weapons, they established a strong biblical basis for their conclusions. Much of their analysis applies to broader issues of war and peace. Here we summarize their observations on the New Testament and provide linkage with their documents.
U.S. Catholic Bishops
In their 1983 Pastoral Letter on War and Peace the National Conference of Catholic Bishops offered an analysis of war and peace from a New Testament perspective. They started with belief that Jesus is the messiah or Christ who "made peace by the blood of the cross."
In the New Testament, the Catholic bishops wrote, "There is no notion of a warrior God who will lead the people in an historical victory over its enemies." The image of war depicted in the Book of Revelation describes "the eschatological struggle between God and Satan." Swords appear as "an image of division; they are present at the arrest of Jesus, and he rejects their use."
"Jesus proclaimed the reign of God in his words and made it present in his actions." "In God's reign the poor are given the kingdom, the mourners are comforted, the meek inherit the earth,...peacemakers are called the children of God." "One of the most striking characteristics of this new way is forgiveness." In the reign of God "love is an active, life-giving, inclusive force....Such love does not seek revenge but rather is merciful in the face of threat and opposition."
"In all of his suffering, as in all of his life and ministry, Jesus refused to defend himself with force or with violence....Even at his death, Jesus cried out for forgiveness for those who were his executioners....The resurrection of Jesus is a sign to the world that God indeed does reign, does give life in death, and that the love of God is stronger than death."
For the U.S. Catholic bishops' full discussion of the New Testament, read pp. 13-17 in The Challenge of Peace: God's Promise and Our Response.
United Methodist Bishops
In their 1986 document In Defense of Creation the United Methodist Council of Bishops noted that Jesus "invokes the most special blessings upon peacemakers. He exalts the humanity of aliens. He commands us to love our enemies; for he knows, even if we do not, that if we hate our enemies, we blind and destroy ourselves. Shalom, after all, is the heart of God and the law of creation. It cannot be broken with impunity."
"Paul's letters announce that Jesus Christ is 'our peace.' It is Christ who has 'broken down the dividing wall of hostility,' creating one humanity, so making peace. It is Christ who ordains a ministry of reconciliation."
"The Crucifixion was initially a political event -- a seeming defeat at that -- but it quickly became transformed into a theological event, the ultimate act of our redemption. Christ is forever 'making peace by the blood of his cross.' "
"The Revelation of John, in the darkest night of despair, sings of a new earth, radiant with love and compassion, in which all nations and peoples come together peaceably before the Lord God and in which hunger and hurt and sorrow are no more."
For more, read pp. 27-30 in In Defense of Creation.
When the United Methodist bishops approached the New Testament in In Search of Security (pp.11-12), they observed that "the disciples were made aware that following Jesus leads into radical insecurity....The disciples are not expected to defend themselves and are encouraged to love even their enemies and in everything to trust in God who knows what they need." (Mt.5:38-48) "The security of the Christian believer is the conviction 'that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus or Lord' (Rom 8:38f)."
"Evildoers, people who commit crimes or cause suffering, are not identified with evil itself. Therefore, St. Paul can write the astonishing advice: 'Do not repay anyone evil for evil....Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.' (Rom 12:17-21)."
The United Methodist bishops concluded, "Jesus' death and resurrection were God's victory over all powers that may threaten our lives. To be saved through this reality makes our lives safe and secure." *