Tag Archives: Paul Copan

Was the Early Church Pacifistic?

by Greg Boyd, originally posted at his website ReKnew.

In Crucifixion of the Warrior God (CWG) I argue that Jesus and Paul instruct Christians to love and bless their enemies and to unconditionally refrain from violence (e.g. Matt 5:39-45Rom 12:14-21). Moreover, I argue that this was the prevailing attitude of Christians prior to the fourth century when the Church aligned itself with the Roman Empire. In his critique of CWG that he delivered at the ETS in November, Copan argues against this, contending that I give “the false impression that Christians were uniformly pacifistic until Constantine.”

He cites the work of David Hunter and several other scholars who note that we find a number of references to Christians serving in the Roman military in the writings of Tertullian, Lactantius, Clement of Alexandra and Eusebius.[1] Not only this, but we have found a number of tomb inscriptions to Christian soldiers in the second and third centuries. On this basis, these scholars argue that the earlier scholarly consensus that the early church was uniformly pacifistic must be nuanced. At least some Christians were apparently not opposed to Christians serving in the military.

The first thing I’ll say is that it is a bit odd that Copan would raise this objection against me, for while I defend “the predominant nonviolence of the early church” prior to “the Augustinian revolution,” I also explicitly note that the earlier unqualified depictions of the early church as uniformly against military service “were not sufficiently nuanced” ((CWG, 24, n.45). Indeed, I refer readers to some of the same works that Copan cites against me (and add a number that he omits). Continue reading Was the Early Church Pacifistic?