13 When it was almost time for the Jewish Passover, Jesus went up to Jerusalem. 14 In the temple courts he found people selling cattle, sheep and doves, and others sitting at tables exchanging money. 15 So he made a whip out of cords, and drove all from the temple courts, both sheep and cattle; he scattered the coins of the money changers and overturned their tables. 16 To those who sold doves he said, “Get these out of here! Stop turning my Father’s house into a market!” 17 His disciples remembered that it is written: “Zeal for your house will consume me.” - John 2:13-17 NIV

This passage can easily be read to be a "violent" reaction from Jesus. Leaving aside Niebuhr and pontifical statements against Christian Pacifism, how do Christian Pacifists interpret and apply this passage of scripture?

  • 2
    Clarifying that you are looking for the pacifist interpretation, as opposed to the truth question. Christian Pacifism is actually a minority view, but an interesting perspective. Sep 15, 2014 at 16:56
  • I think there are likely differing Christian Pacifist views relating to this. For instance 1) God can be violent if he wishes. 2) Jesus' actions don't violate a pacifist ban on violence.
    – Flimzy
    Sep 15, 2014 at 18:22
  • I'd be careful to specify that we are talking about a minority of Pacifists here. While an extreme Pacifist might be against all kinds of violence (e.g. overturning tables), garden-variety Pacifists would only be concerned with things like murder and torture.
    – Ryan
    Sep 17, 2014 at 0:59

3 Answers 3


Christian Pacifism does not imply that one does not get angry. It doesn't even mean that one doesn't stand up against oppression. It only suggests that one eschews violence and use the least force required to achieve justice.

  • When the Pacifist Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King marched or conducted sit-ins, sometimes there were altercations. People on both sides could get hurt - but comparatively speaking, the movement attempted to avoid killing and death.

  • Quaker Pacifists would object to fighting in a war with guns, but they would often serve humanitarian causes supporting the side of right. Sometimes, this could even mean fisticuffs.

  • Winston Churchill, speaking of Chamberlin's capitulation to the Nazis is reported to have said: "One can always appease the lion by allowing oneself to be consumed." Nonviolent pacifism seeks justice - not appeasement.

Other biblical justifications can be found here and here for example. Ted Grimsted, following Yoder (probably the best person to consult in re: Christian Pacifism) admits that the definition is hard to pin down, but ultimately writes:

“Pacifism” is the in-principled unwillingness to engage in lethal violence, including most obviously the unwillingness to participate in warfare.

Non-violent protest does not mean the absence of harm - it means the least amount of harm to effect justice.

In Jesus' case, his father's house had become a den of thieves, a place in which people were abusing other people who had come to worship. Jesus used the least amount of violence needed to relieve suffering of others. There is no suggestion that anybody was killed or irreparably injured. Jesus just meted out the physical whoopin' that these money-changers had metaphorically been dishing out themselves.

  • Note: Personally, I agree with various Popes that pacifism is not inherently Christian, and in fact disengages one too far from the struggle for justice. That said, I'm trying to represent the Pacifist argument fairly. Sep 15, 2014 at 16:59

There are two or three ways this question is answered.

The first kind of answer differentiates pacifism from non-violence. Some holders of Pacifist viewpoint distinguish war from legitimate police functions. For example, this article:

God may use state violence, [...] to achieve God’s ends. Further, if God uses the violence of the state, then [Pacifists] cannot transform his instrument of wrath into a completely nonviolent entity. At most, they can call it to account for its policing function. [Pacifists] should therefore distinguish between war and “policing.” Unlike war, policing is best understood as “protecting the good and restraining evil with a minimum amount of force.” Since the police are in fact a form of peacemaking, [Pacifists] can love their enemies in police occupations.

The cleansing of the Temple was a legitimate action, especially given that the person doing it was God.

An alternative view would be that the cleansing of the temple is a special case: Jesus is explicitly using his authority as God when he does this. The fact that he, as God, does something, does not automatically empower his followers to do the same,

Yet another view would be that Jesus cleansed the temple without violence, using the whip only on animals.


two things:

  1. in the account in John, it mentions that Jesus used the whip of cords (which is different from the "lead-tipped whip" used on Jesus in Pilate's courtyard) and used it on the animals to drive them out. in the synoptic gospels, there is no mention of any whip or weapon used by Jesus, but He did "drive out" the bad guys in the temple.

  2. even if Jesus used the whip of cords on the moneychangers (and other temple racketeers, you know, to "righteously kick a little butt"), it was not a sword. if Jesus came into the temple with a sword and righteously sliced these bad guys, then maybe Christian advocates of "redemptive violence" might have a case regarding the example of Jesus. but that is not the case.

Christians believe that Jesus is "God dwelling among humans". we believe that if you want to know about the nature of God's character, you get the clearest revelation of that from the teaching, example, and character of Jesus of Nazareth who appeared on this planet some two millenia ago. Jesus, while on Earth, was clearly a pacifist, acted as such, and taught that to His disciples (and to us). any distortion of the historical account to the contrary is simply that; a distortion of the historical account.

for the "Christian" to use a machine gun on another human being (or to launch and detonate a nuclear weapon over the heads of hundreds of thousands of human beings) is about as well justified as Jesus doing the same. there is no record that Jesus used the machine gun of His day on anyone.

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