In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section War, New Testament

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Eschatological Warfare and Violence
  • Spiritual Warfare
  • Reading the Bible in Contexts of War and Violence

Biblical Studies War, New Testament
Keith Dyer
  • LAST REVIEWED: 29 May 2015
  • LAST MODIFIED: 29 May 2015
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195393361-0195


In comparison to the extensive literature on war and warfare in the Old Testament and the depth and complexity of the accompanying moral and theological debates, the New Testament scholarship appears slight indeed. This is not only because of the relative sizes and timeframes of the two Testaments. The New Testament documents are the product of tiny, powerless 1st- and 2nd-century communities, which were themselves often the victims of war—in the case of the survivors and refugees from the Judean War (66–73 CE)—or marginalized and potentially illegal in the case of the earlier Pauline communities and later nascent “Christian” groups. For these communities, war was an inevitable reality and perhaps even seen as an apocalyptic necessity for the in-breaking new age of the Kingdom of God. In some contexts the reality of war may have been something too painful or dangerous to mention openly at a time when Rome was brutally reasserting its hegemony over the Eastern Mediterranean world. So war lurks in the background of the New Testament texts. Only after Constantine and the rise of a dominant Christian culture does it make any sense for Christians to turn to issues more widely canvassed in Old Testament scholarship such as the state and war, military service, Holy War, and Just War theory. For these reasons, publications explicitly on war in the New Testament itself are relatively scarce, tend to allegorize or spiritualize the topic, and/or focus on the battle scenes and eschatological warfare of the Book of Revelation. Nevertheless, since much continues to be written on these and related issues—such as Jesus, pacifism, and violence; the history of the Judean (Jewish) War and how some NT texts allude to it (or don’t); and the relationship between the early followers of Jesus and the power and warfare of the Roman Empire—all of these topics are included in this article. The overall focus in this bibliography is on war and violence at the state and imperial levels, since the inevitable consequences of war and violence for slaves, women and, in particular, ethnic groups are treated in separate Oxford bibliographies (see, for example, Slavery and Anti-Semitism in the New Testament), though some books discussed in this article touch on these areas also.

General Overviews

The dictionary articles on war in the New Testament either focus on the use in the New Testament of the Greek words usually translated “war” (polemos noun, polemew verb), or attempt a wider survey including related terms and motifs, and associated ethical issues. In the former category, Böcher 1993 (ET) provides a concise introduction suitable for introductory undergraduate work, and Bauernfeind 1968 (ET) and Hobbs 1995 give a more detailed overview appropriate for advanced undergraduate- or graduate-level study. Among the wider surveys, LaSor 1993 is helpful as an undergraduate starting point, while Furnish 1984, Hegermann 1990, and Klassen 1992 give more comprehensive accounts suitable for the higher-level student. Swartley 2014 gives a brief methodological overview, and Swartley 1996 is the most comprehensive and detailed coverage of the whole area.

  • Bauernfeind, Otto. “πóλεμος, πολεμέω.” In Theological Dictionary of the New Testament. Vol. 6. Edited by Gerhard Friedrich; translator and editor, Geoffrey W. Bromiley, 502–515. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1968.

    A more extensive coverage of the background to war language, including in the Greek World and Hellenism, the Old Testament and later Judaism, and then its usage in the New Testament, where it is divided into “the events of the last time” and “other references.”

  • Böcher, Otto. “πóλεμος, πολεμέω.” In The Exegetical Dictionary of the New Testament. Vol. 3. Edited by Horst Balz and Gerhard Schneider, 128–129. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1993.

    A basic introduction to the use of “war” (polemos) in the New Testament. Helpful statistics and classification of usage into eschatological, paraenetic, and the metaphorical use of messianic war motifs.

  • Furnish, Victor Paul. “War and Peace in the New Testament.” Interpretation 38 (1984): 363–379.

    DOI: 10.1177/002096438403800403

    Explains clearly the different context and timeframe of the New Testament writings (compared with the Old Testament), and thus the indirect nature of the evidence for the attitudes of Jesus and Paul to war and violence.

  • Hegermann, Harald. “Krieg III: Neues Testament.” In Theologische Realenzyklopädie. Edited by Gerhard Krause and Gerhard Müller, 25–28. Berlin and New York: de Gruyter, 1990.

    Includes discussion of war and apocalyptic expectation, holy war traditions, military service, and other ethical questions.

  • Hobbs, Raymond. “The Language of Warfare in the New Testament.” In Modelling Early Christianity: Social-Scientific Studies of the New Testament in Its Context. Edited by Philip F. Esler, 259–273. London and New York: Routledge, 1995.

    DOI: 10.4324/9780203434642

    Catalogues the language of warfare and weaponry in the New Testament and argues that it functions referentially and illustratively in the Gospels (usually negatively) and Acts (more positively), and metaphorically in the Epistles (as exhortation). Revelation is not analyzed.

  • Klassen, William. “War in the NT.” In The Anchor Bible Dictionary. Vol. 6. Edited by David Noel Freedman, 867–875. New York: Doubleday, 1992.

    Detailed comment on war in the Greco-Roman world, God as “warrior” in Judaism, Jesus as eschatological or messianic warrior, and ethical questions concerning war and military service in the New Testament and early church.

  • LaSor, William Sanford. “War.” In The Oxford Companion to the Bible. Edited by Bruce M. Metzger and Michael D. Coogan, 791–792. New York and Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1993.

    DOI: 10.1093/acref/9780195046458.001.0001

    A concise overview of war in the Bible, including a brief section pointing out that strictly, discussion of “pacifism” belongs to the Church Fathers, not the New Testament, where the predominately spiritual and apocalyptic nature of war language is evident.

  • Swartley, Willard M. “War and Peace in the New Testament.” In Aufstieg und Niedergang der römischen Welt: Geschichte und Kultur Roms im Spiegel der neueren Forschung. Part 2, Principat 26.3. Edited by Wolfgang Haase and Hildegard Temporini, 2298–2408. Berlin and New York: de Gruyter, 1996.

    A detailed and extensive review of the literature on war and peace in the New Testament, followed by a careful analysis of the interrelatedness of war and peace language in the Bible (they are not antonyms), and exegetical comments on the key New Testament texts. Excellent bibliographical detail.

  • Swartley, Willard M. “Peace and Violence in the New Testament: Definition and Methodology.” In Struggles for Shalom: Peace and Violence across the Testaments. Edited by Laura L. Brenneman and Brad D. Schantz, 141–154. Eugene, OR: Pickwick, 2014.

    A brief and accessible overview of the issues around defining peace and violence in the New Testament, their wider semantic fields, and the way they are addressed in various New Testament texts.

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