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Understanding the Bible’s Definition of Violence

The Bible, a sacred text revered by millions around the world, addresses various aspects of human existence, including the topic of violence. To truly grasp the Bible’s perspective on violence, we must delve into its narratives, poems, and instructions that depict different forms of violence and explore the evolving interpretation over time.

The Hebrew Bible and the New Testament both contain accounts of violence, spanning from wars and sacrifices to acts of murder and oppression. The writers of the Bible defined violence based on their cultural and theological contexts, perceiving it as the destruction of life and its environment, oppressive speech, violations of justice, and defilement of purity and sanctity.

Key Takeaways:

  • The Bible’s definition of violence encompasses physical harm , verbal harm, and ethical harm.
  • The Hebrew Bible addresses violence using terms like “hamas,” “gazal,” “asaq,” and “haram.”
  • The Torah condemns various forms of violence, including oppression, mistreatment of outsiders, and economic injustice.
  • The Prophets emphasize the consequences of oppressive actions and speak out against violence against the poor.
  • The New Testament focuses on promoting peace, love, and non-violence, with Jesus teaching forgiveness and the importance of peaceful resolutions.

Violence in the Hebrew Bible/Old Testament

The Hebrew Bible, also known as the Old Testament, provides a rich and complex exploration of violence. The text utilizes various terms to convey different manifestations of violence and wrongdoing. One such term is hamas, which encompasses physical violence committed by humans. However, hamas also encompasses the broader concept of sin, injustice, and ethical violence. Through this nuanced understanding, the Hebrew Bible highlights the multifaceted nature of violence.

Within the Hebrew Bible, there are additional terms that shed light on different forms of violence. For example, the term gazal pertains to acts of plundering and robbery.

“The violence described in the Hebrew Bible reflects the realities of the ancient world, where conflict and oppression were prevalent. Understanding these terms and their contextual implications is crucial for comprehending the broader message of the Bible .”

Another term associated with violence in the Hebrew Bible is asaq, which denotes oppression and extortion. This term encompasses acts that directly harm the vulnerable or exploit their resources. Additionally, the term haram signifies complete annihilation. It is often used to describe the destruction of nations and serves as a reminder of the consequences of unchecked violence.

To gain a deeper understanding of violence in the Hebrew Bible, it is essential to examine specific Bible verses that address this topic. Here are a few examples:

  1. Genesis 6:11-13: “Now the earth was corrupt in God’s sight and was full of violence.”
  2. Ezekiel 7:23: “Prepare chains, because the land is full of bloodshed and the city is full of violence.”
  3. Micah 6:12: “Your rich people are violent; your inhabitants speak lies and their tongues whisper deceit.”

These verses highlight the prevalence of violence in the biblical narrative and its condemnation within the Hebrew Bible.

Term Description
Hamas Physical violence and wrongdoing
Gazal Plundering and robbery
Asaq Oppression and extortion
Haram Complete annihilation

Violence in the Hebrew Bible/Old Testament

The Complexity of Violence

It is important to recognize the complexity of violence as portrayed in the Hebrew Bible. The range of terms used to describe violence reflects the diverse perspectives on its nature and consequences. Understanding these nuances enriches our interpretation of biblical texts and encourages thoughtful engagement with questions of violence, justice, and peace.

Violence in the Torah

The Torah, the first five books of the Hebrew Bible, portrays instances of violence that reflect the complexity of human actions. One term commonly used to describe violent acts in the Torah is “gazal,” which denotes taking, robbing, and plundering. This term encompasses various forms of harm, whether physical or otherwise.

However, violence in the Torah extends beyond physical acts. It condemns oppressive behavior towards the poor, including the withholding of wages and charging oppressive interest. The Torah also highlights the mistreatment of outsiders and political oppression as forms of violence.

The concept of violence in the Torah encompasses not only physical harm but also verbal violence and ethical violence. It emphasizes the importance of upholding justice, fairness, and compassion within the community.

Examples of Violence in the Torah

“You shall not oppress a hired servant who is poor and needy, whether he is one of your brothers or one of the sojourners who are in your land within your towns.”

Deuteronomy 24:14

The Torah places great importance on recognizing and rectifying instances of violence, challenging individuals to act with kindness, fairness, and respect towards others. It provides guidelines for creating a just society and fosters a sense of communal responsibility.

Forms of Violence in the Torah Biblical Reference
Physical Violence Genesis 4:8
Verbal Violence Exodus 32:21-24
Ethical Violence Leviticus 19:13

Violence in the Torah

This image depicts the relevance and impact of violence in the Torah, underscoring the need for careful interpretation and understanding of its messages. By addressing violence in its various forms, the Torah prompts reflection on our behavior and encourages individuals to strive for peace, justice, and harmonious relationships.

Violence in the Prophets

The Prophets in the Hebrew Bible address violence in different contexts. Jeremiah, for example, links violence with sin and injustice, as well as political oppression. Ezekiel associates violence with pagan idolatry and oppression of neighbors. Amos and Micah criticize violence against the poor and speak out against economic injustice. These Prophets use various terms to describe violence, including “haram” (dedication to destruction), “nakah” (striking fatally), and “asham” (sin). Through their teachings, these Prophets condemn violence and highlight the consequences of oppressive actions.

“Learn to do good; seek justice, correct oppression; bring justice to the fatherless, plead the widow’s cause.”

Isaiah 1:17

The Prophets urge society to align with ethical values and strive for social justice. They challenge oppressive systems and practices that lead to violence, holding individuals and governments accountable for their actions. The Prophets’ messages provide guidance and inspiration to combat violence and work towards a more equitable and peaceful society.

Prophet Context of Violence Primary Message
Jeremiah Sin, injustice, political oppression Condemnation of violence and its consequences
Ezekiel Pagan idolatry, oppression of neighbors Association of violence with immoral practices
Amos Violence against the poor, economic injustice Advocacy for social justice and equality
Micah Violence against the poor, economic injustice Call to reject violence and pursue righteousness

These Prophets utilize powerful imagery and poetic language to convey their messages. They admonish societies for their unjust actions, urging individuals to embrace compassion, promote peace, and actively work towards social transformation. Their teachings serve as a reminder of the enduring relevance of addressing violence and striving for a more just and harmonious world.

Violence in the Prophets

Violence in the Psalms and Wisdom Literature

The Psalms and Wisdom Literature of the Hebrew Bible offer profound insights into the topic of violence. These texts examine the destructive nature of violence, denouncing mistreatment of the poor and deceitful speech, while providing wisdom and guidance for alternatives to violent behavior.

In the Psalms, the Hebrew term “chamac” is used to depict violence, encompassing both physical aggression and harmful words. These texts emphasize the condemnation of violence and advocate for justice and compassion, particularly in relation to the marginalized and oppressed. The Psalms resonate with the belief that violence tarnishes the pursuit of righteousness and disrupts the harmonious order established by God.

“Do not be envious of those who do wrong; do not let their violence deceive you.” – Psalm 37:1

Wisdom Literature, including books such as Proverbs and Ecclesiastes, further explores the consequences of violence and the importance of ethical conduct. These texts caution against envy of violent individuals and urge readers to exercise patience and prayer instead. They present violence as a misguided path that ultimately leads to destruction and isolation.

“Do not envy the violent or choose any of their ways.” – Proverbs 3:31

By emphasizing ethical behavior, the Psalms and Wisdom Literature provide readers with a framework for navigating conflicts and seeking non-violent resolutions. These texts encourage individuals to cultivate virtues such as patience, humility, and honesty as essential components of healthy and peaceful relationships.

Wisdom Literature on Violence

Wisdom Literature elaborates on the detrimental effects of violence and its antithesis, wisdom. It emphasizes the significance of seeking divine wisdom, which enables individuals to discern the destructive nature of violent actions and choose a path of righteousness. By embracing wisdom, one can break the cycle of violence and contribute to the flourishing of individuals and communities.

Biblical Wisdom on Violence

The Bible’s wisdom on violence lies in its understanding of the interconnectedness between individual actions and the broader impact on society. It teaches that violence breeds more violence, perpetuating cycles of harm and suffering. Conversely, it encourages individuals to seek non-violent alternatives rooted in justice, compassion, and reconciliation.

Key Teachings Example
Renouncing violence “Turn from evil and do good; seek peace and pursue it.” – Psalm 34:14
Emphasizing justice “Learn to do right; seek justice. Defend the oppressed. Take up the cause of the fatherless; plead the case of the widow.” – Isaiah 1:17
Fostering compassion “Clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience.” – Colossians 3:12

violence in the Psalms and Wisdom Literature

Violence in the New Testament

The New Testament presents a unique perspective on violence, placing emphasis on non-violence, love, forgiveness, and reconciliation. Jesus, the central figure of the New Testament, teaches the importance of peaceful resolutions and warns against anger. His teachings highlight the need for individuals to strive for peace and embrace non-violence in their interactions with others.

“But I say to you, Do not resist the one who is evil. But if anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also.”

Jesus’s teachings promote love and forgiveness as alternatives to violence, urging his followers to exhibit compassion and understanding towards others. His emphasis on non-violence sets a foundational principle for Christian discipleship.

In addition to Jesus’s teachings, the apostles in the New Testament address violence in the context of submission to government authorities. They acknowledge the concept of just wars, where governments have the responsibility to maintain justice and protect their citizens from evil.

However, it is important to note that the emphasis of the New Testament primarily lies in promoting peace and non-violence. The teachings of Jesus and the apostles guide Christians to seek peaceful resolutions, practice forgiveness, and work towards reconciliation.

As a result, the New Testament provides a biblical framework that encourages individuals to respond to violence with compassion, forgiveness, and an unwavering commitment to peace.

violence in the New Testament

Violence in Conflict and Warfare

The Bible recognizes that violence is often present in conflict and warfare. It distinguishes between acts of violence that serve as holy judgment on sin and personal vendettas fueled by pride. Throughout the Hebrew Bible, there are accounts of wars in which God’s people fought as instruments of divine judgment.

In the New Testament, the emphasis shifts towards submission to government authorities and their right to bear the sword against evildoers. While the Bible acknowledges the use of force in certain circumstances, it also encourages followers to seek non-violent solutions whenever possible.

“For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven… a time to love and a time to hate, a time for war and a time for peace.” – Ecclesiastes 3:1, 8

In times of conflict, individuals are called to approach the situation with prayer, patience, and a commitment to peaceful resolutions. Rather than resorting to violent actions, the Bible encourages believers to seek understanding, reconciliation, and healing.

Violence in the Mind and Heart

The Bible teaches that violence exists not only in physical actions but also in the mind and heart. It warns against harboring hatred and anger towards others, as this can lead to spiritual and emotional harm. When violence takes root in the mind and heart, it has the power to shape our actions and relationships in destructive ways.

“Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it.” – Proverbs 4:23

Dealing with Anger

Jesus equates murderous anger with judgment from God, highlighting the importance of dealing with anger in a healthy and loving manner. In the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus says:

“You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘You shall not murder,’ and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment. But I tell you that anyone who is angry with a brother or sister will be subject to judgment.” – Matthew 5:21-22

This biblical perspective on anger urges individuals to address their anger rather than allowing it to simmer and escalate into violence. It encourages open communication, constructive conflict resolution, and seeking reconciliation. The Bible teaches that forgiveness , rather than revenge, is the path to healing and restoration in personal relationships.

Cultivating Peace and Love

Instead of nurturing violence in the mind and heart, the Bible calls for individuals to cultivate a spirit of peace and love. The Apostle Paul writes in his letter to the Romans:

“If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.” – Romans 12:18

This biblical teaching emphasizes the importance of actively pursuing peace in relationships. It encourages self-reflection, empathy, and understanding as key virtues in overcoming the temptation to respond with violence. By embracing love as a guiding principle, individuals can transform their thoughts and actions, promoting harmony and reconciliation.

The Power of Words

In addition to physical actions, the Bible also recognizes the destructive potential of violent speech. The book of Proverbs warns against the misuse of words, stating:

“The tongue has the power of life and death.” – Proverbs 18:21

Verbal violence can inflict deep wounds that may take longer to heal than physical injuries. The Bible encourages individuals to use their words to build up and encourage others, fostering an environment of kindness, understanding, and empathy.

Choose Love, Reject Violence

When violence lurks in the mind and heart, it has the potential to taint every aspect of our lives. By heeding the biblical teachings on anger and violence, we can change the narrative and choose love over violence. Opening our hearts to forgiveness, practicing empathy and understanding, and striving for peaceful resolutions can lead to personal transformation and a more harmonious society.

The Christian Response to Violence

Christianity promotes peace, love, and non-violence as central principles. As followers of Christ, Christians are called to embody these values in their actions and responses to violence. The biblical teachings on peace provide guidance and inspiration for navigating conflict and promoting a peaceful coexistence.

Non-Violence in Christianity

At the core of Christianity is the example set by Jesus Christ, who taught non-violence and demonstrated it in his own life. He encouraged his followers to turn the other cheek and to love their enemies. This radical approach to non-violence challenges the natural instincts for retaliation and instead promotes forgiveness and reconciliation.

“But I say to you, do not resist an evildoer. If anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other also.” – Matthew 5:39

Seeking Peaceful Resolutions

The Bible encourages Christians to actively seek peaceful resolutions to conflicts. This involves engaging in open dialogue, practicing empathy, and striving for understanding. By listening to one another and seeking common ground, individuals can work towards reconciliation and healing.

“If it is possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.” – Romans 12:18

The Power of Forgiveness

Forgiveness is a fundamental aspect of the Christian response to violence. By forgiving those who have caused harm, individuals can break the cycle of violence and promote healing. Through forgiveness, Christians can embody the transformative power of love and extend grace to others.

“Bear with one another and, if anyone has a complaint against another, forgive each other; just as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive.” – Colossians 3:13

Prayer, Patience, and Understanding

In the face of violence, prayer becomes a source of strength and guidance for Christians. Through prayer, individuals seek wisdom, courage, and divine intervention. Patience is also essential, as responding to violence requires a measured and thoughtful approach. Christians are called to exhibit understanding and empathy, striving to address the root causes of violence with compassion.

“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness.” – Galatians 5:22

Biblical Teachings on Peace and Non-Violence

Biblical Teachings Scripture References
Turn the other cheek Matthew 5:39
Live peaceably with all Romans 12:18
Forgive one another Colossians 3:13
Love your enemies Matthew 5:44
Do not repay evil for evil Romans 12:17


In examining the biblical stance on violence, it is clear that the Bible addresses this issue comprehensively. The scriptures recognize that violence exists in the world, but they also provide guidance on how individuals should respond to it.

The biblical interpretation of violence encompasses not only physical harm but also verbal harm and ethical harm. While the Bible contains narratives and teachings that depict instances of violence, its overarching message promotes peace, love, and non-violence as fundamental principles for a peaceful and just society.

Understanding the biblical perspective on violence can guide individuals in their interactions and contribute to the promotion of a culture of peace and justice. By embracing the principles taught in the Bible, individuals can strive for peaceful resolutions, practice forgiveness, and work towards reconciliation in the face of violence.

Ultimately, the Bible reminds us that violence is not the answer and that true change can only be achieved through peaceful means. By following the biblical teachings on peace and non-violence, we cultivate a society where justice and compassion prevail.


What is the biblical definition of violence?

The Bible defines violence as the destruction of life and its environment, oppressive speech, violations of justice, and defilement of purity and sanctity.

Does the Bible contain instances of violence?

Yes, the Hebrew Bible and the New Testament contain narratives, poems, and instructions that address and describe various acts of violence.

How does the Hebrew Bible/Old Testament address violence?

The Hebrew Bible addresses violence through various terms such as “hamas,” “gazal,” “asaq,” and “haram.” It condemns physical violence, oppression of the poor, extortion, and destruction of nations.

What examples of violence can be found in the Torah?

The Torah describes violent acts such as taking, robbing, and plundering. It also condemns oppression of the poor, political oppression, charging oppressive interest, and mistreatment of outsiders.

How do the Prophets address violence?

The Prophets link violence with sin, injustice, and political oppression. They condemn violence against the poor, economic injustice, and idolatry.

Does the Psalms and Wisdom Literature discuss violence?

Yes, the Psalms and Wisdom Literature address violence. They condemn violence, mistreatment of the poor, and deceitful speech. They also warn against envy of violent individuals and emphasize the importance of ethical behavior.

How does the New Testament address violence?

The New Testament teaches non-violence and emphasizes love, forgiveness, and reconciliation. It promotes peace as an essential principle for Christian discipleship.

How does the Bible view violence in conflict and warfare?

The Bible acknowledges the existence of violence in conflict and warfare. It distinguishes between holy judgment on sin and personal vendettas driven by pride. It encourages prayer, patience, and peaceful resolutions.

Does the Bible address violence in the mind and heart?

Yes, the Bible warns against harboring anger and hatred in the mind and heart. It emphasizes dealing with anger in a healthy and loving manner and encourages open communication, rebuke, and forgiveness.

How should Christians respond to violence?

Christianity promotes peace, love, and non-violence. Christians are called to seek peaceful resolutions, practice forgiveness, and work towards reconciliation. Prayer, patience, and understanding are emphasized in responding to violence.

What is the Bible’s overall perspective on violence?

While the Bible contains instances of violence, it primarily promotes peace, love, and non-violence as fundamental principles for a peaceful and just society.

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  • Greg Gaines

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