In discussing military service, Jehovah’s Witnesses will acknowledge that Jehovah directed Israel to engage in numerous wars in the Old Testament, but they will tell you that God’s arrangement has changed in the Christian era. In support of this contention, they often quote a number of Scriptures. Let’s look at them and see how to respond.
The Watchtower often cites 1 John 5:19: “We know that we are children of God, and that the whole world is under the control of the evil one.”
There are two problems with the way it uses this verse. First, Satan’s control is limited. Ultimately, God is in control. For example, Satan had to ask God’s permission to attack Job (Job 1:8-12; 2:4-6) and Peter (Luke 22:31). When Jesus commanded him to leave, he obeyed (Matthew 4:10-11).
Second, if 1 John 5:19 means that military service is forbidden to Christians, then by the same reasoning almost every other occupation engaged in by “worldly people” would be forbidden as well.
The Watchtower’s other anti-military proof texts generally fall into one of three categories. Let’s look at the context of these passages.
Category 1: Personal relationships between individuals
- Luke 6:31: “Do to others as you would have them do to you.”
This is not a declaration that nations should appease aggressors. If the nations had refused to use military force to stop Hitler, would they have been showing love toward his victims?
- 2 Corinthians 10:3-4: “For though we live in the world, we do not wage war as the world does. The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds.”
Here, Paul is talking about how he deals with spiritual conflict within the church. What Christians should or shouldn’t do with regard to military service isn’t under discussion at all.
- James 4:4: “You adulterous people, don’t you know that friendship with the world is hatred toward God? Anyone who chooses to be a friend of the world becomes an enemy of God.”
Here, the topic is not military service but rather people living their lives motivated by envy and selfish ambition.
Category 2: God’s plans for Jesus and his disciples at his first coming
- John 6:15: “Jesus, knowing that they intended to come and make him king by force, withdrew again to a mountain by himself.”
This describes Jesus’ actions in a particular situation. In no way is it a teaching against Christians serving in the military.
- The Watchtower says, “Appropriately, Christ directed his followers to lay down the sword. (Matt. 26:52).” (Reasoning from the Scriptures, 272)
This directive was given in the specific context of Peter using his sword to try to prevent Jesus’ arrest. Jesus’ rebuke revealed that the arrest was a part of God’s plan. This does not mean that all Christians must willingly submit to attempts to take their life. In Acts 23:12-24, when Paul learned of a plot against his life, he had his nephew inform the Roman commander so he could use soldiers to thwart the plot.
- Jesus stating that in John 17:16 that his followers are not “of the world.”
The statement was a part of Jesus’ prayer that the Father would protect his disciples from Satan and opposers of the Christian gospel after he returned to heaven. It was not a teaching about Christians serving in the armed forces.
Category 3: How things will be different in the end times
- Isaiah 2:4: “They will beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks. Nation will not take up sword against nation, nor will they train for war anymore.”
- 2 Thessalonians 1:6-7: “God is just: He will pay back trouble to those who trouble you and give relief to you who are troubled, and to us as well. This will happen when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven in blazing fire with his powerful angels.”
- Revelation 19:11-21: John’s prophetic description of Jesus returning and defeating the armies allied against him
Point out that while these things will happen someday, that day has not yet arrived. We are living in a fallen world where police and armies are still needed.
In fact, the topic of military service is specifically addressed in the New Testament. We will look at those passages next time.
Do you find my comments about the contexts of the Watchtower’s proof texts to be helpful?
Share your thoughts in the comments.