Many believe that it is, or if it is not more violent than it is equally so. Is that true?
Here are ten points of explanation:
Let’s begin with the Old Testament war verses in historical context.
1. After people read loving and peaceful Psalm 23, they get the mistaken impression that ancient Israel was made up of semi-Buddhist, peaceful meditators who sat around under fig trees and did nothing else. Truthfully, however, ancient Israel was a fully-fledged nation with a military, surrounded by hostile nations that waged annihilation or near-annihilation warfare (much like its neighbors Hizbullah or Hamas would like to do today). Here’s an excerpt from the Mesha Stele (9th century BCE):
“And Chemosh [a god] said to me [Mesha, king of Moab], Go take Nebo against Israel, and I went in the night and I fought against it from the break of day till noon, and I took it: and I killed in all seven thousand men, but I did not kill the women and maidens, for I devoted them to Ashtar-Chemosh; and I took from it the vessels of Jehovah, and offered them before Chemosh.”
In that passage the Moabites wiped out 7,000 men and “devoted” (presumably enslaved) the women and children. (The number 7,000 looks suspiciously “biblical” because of the digit 7, which has special meaning.) The word “devoted” is conceptually related to the same word found in Joshua (e.g. 6:17, 6:21, 7:1). And so Israel’s war practices paralleled those of its neighbors. One gets the impression that if the neighbors had been peaceful, there wouldn’t be war verses in the Hebrew Bible.
2. However, the extra-harsh language may be just a rhetorical trope that was intended to convey the national meaning that this or that tribe or nation was awesome and better than its neighbors (note how in sports people say their team “wiped out” or “destroyed” or “annihilated” their opponents). The evidence is found in Joshua 10:40, which says, “So Joshua subdued the whole region, including the hill country, the Negev, the western foothills and the mountain slopes, together with all their kings. He left no survivors. He totally destroyed all who breathed, just as the Lord, the God of Israel, had commanded.” Yet, 23:7,12-13 refer to the nations that remain, so he did not “annihilate” them.
However, if the annihilation or near-annihilation warfare is literal, then the next points are valid.
3. Per the Bible, the Canaanites had the choice to leave the Promised Land by being driven out: e.g. Exodus 23:28, 29-31, and 34:11. They did not have to be killed.
4. If it is any consolation to a skeptical reader with a chip on his shoulder against anything biblical, the ancient Israelites never did clear them out or kill all of them (see no. 2), but this proved troublesome to the Israelites
5. Specifically, the Canaanites practiced child sacrifice (Leviticus 18:21 and 20:2-5). Following human nature that is bent towards corruption, some of the kings of Israel and some of the people copied the same atrocity. 1 Kings 11:7, 2 Kings 23:10, and Jer. 32:35. Trouble happens when one does not obey God’s command.
6. These commands were for a specific time and place and enemy. They are not an open-ended command to wage war on all pagans today.
7. Now let’s transition to the New Covenant. The fact is–there is simply no verse in all the New Testament that commands or even suggests Christians should form a militia or even a military to injure or kill people in the name of Christ. Rather, Peter and Paul hand the sword over to the state: Rom 13:1-6 and 1 Pet. 2:13-14. (Incidentally, this is where, once again, our American Founders got things right. They separated the state from church, so the state does not meddle in church matters.) Christians are called to preach the gospel that changes sinners and criminals to honest men, while the government is purposed to levy a military and police force to protect the citizenry.
As to the question of Christians joining the military or police force, go here:
1. The Kingdom of God: Was Jesus a Pacifist?
2. The Gospels: Was Jesus a Pacifist?
3. Were the Early Christians Pacifists?
4. Can Christians Join the Military or Police Force?
Short answer: Yes Christians can join the military or police force, but when they discharge their firearms, they do so in the name of the law, not Christ.
And Christians exercising their right to self-defense is valid, as seen in What Does ‘Turn the Other Cheek’ Mean? Also see, Were the Early Christians Pacifists, linked above.
Should the State ‘Turn the Other Cheek’?
8. Christians do not live under the Old Covenant. No Christian denomination today quotes the Old Testament to endorse or encourage violence. So the Old Testament verses that command war–not gratuitous violence–in the name of God and righteousness no longer apply to them.
See my How Jesus Christ Fulfills the Law: Matthew 5:17-19.
9. Now let’s come to Islam. It is no secret that the Quran is filled with violent verses that terrorists use to justify killing people in the name of Allah. The terrorists don’t need to twist the verses. We don’t need to quote them, but instead here are some links:
Qital (Warfare) Verses in the Quran
All the Jihad Verses in the Quran.
4 Jihad and Qital in the Quran, Traditions, and Classical Law
A Brief History of War in Earliest Islam
A Brief History of War in the Earliest Caliphates
Most of the Quranic verses of jihad and qital are commands. In contrast, nowhere do Jesus or the apostles command war or violence.
10. Islam has waged an open-ended war against pagans, who had two options: Convert or die. Islam has also waged an open-ended war on Christians and Jews (People of the Book), who had three options: convert or die or submit to a second-class citizen tax.
Let’s look a history. If we add up a raw body count, estimated by the length of years, as Israel “annihilated” its neighbors in the time of Joshua and compare it to 1,400 years of jihad, then Islam has piled up more bodies.
Objection: What about the Crusades? Reply: beginning in 632 the year Muhammad died, Islamic armies stormed across the known world. Only in 1095 did Pope Urban II call for the first Crusade. That’s 463 years after Islamic aggression that blocked the trade and pilgrimage routes. Further, in an ideal world, the kings and emperors of Europe should have seen themselves as secular, but instead they considered themselves God’s anointed on earth, so it was difficult for them to separate church and state. They were wrong–that is, they did not follow the New Covenant Scriptures–to fight in the name of the cross.
See The Truth about Islamic Jihad and Imperialism: A Timeline
To conclude, the undeniable fact is that Islam is the most violent religion today and its followers use its “holy” book to justify themselves.
Are Christianity and Islam Equally Violent?
Islamic Jihad v. European Crusades
The West’s Struggle with Islam
Islamic Martyrdom: The Economy of Death in the Quran