Church fathers’ view on killing, according to a new book by Ron Sider

At Christianity Today, there is an interview (dated 7th October 2013) with Ronald Sider about his book The Early Church on Killing (Baker Academic, 2012).

Here is what is said about Sider’s book.

Sider turns from advocacy to scholarship, compiling every extant extrabiblical passage on killing from Christian writers in the centuries leading up to Constantine, the time when Christianity began its shift from minority religion for outcasts to majority religion for Roman society.

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On what the early Christian writings say about killing, capital punishment and abortion, Sider says this in the interview,

They definitely tied them together. A number of times different authors—like Lactantius writing at the time of the Diocletian persecution, and earlier writers—are very clear. They explicitly say we don’t kill, and that means we don’t go to gladiatorial games, we’re opposed to abortion, capital punishment is not acceptable, and we don’t kill in war.

On what Scriptures they use, Sider says,

In the texts I collected, they often cite the passage in Isaiah 2 and Micah 4 about how when the Messiah comes they will beat their swords into plowshares and spears into pruning hooks. They explicitly say that Jesus as the Messiah fulfilled that text…

Their most frequent statement is that killing is wrong. Killing a human being is simply something that Christians don’t do, and they’ll cite the Micah passage or Jesus’ “love your enemies” to support that. But the clear statement that Christians don’t kill is the foundation.

Other quotes in the interview are,

The most frequently stated reason that Christians didn’t join the army and go to war is that they didn’t kill. But it’s also true that in Tertullian, for example, idolatry in the Roman army is a second reason for not joining the military. But it’s not true that idolatry is the primary or exclusive reason that the early Christians refused to join the military. More often they just say killing is wrong.

I don’t think that what the early church in the first few centuries said and did is the final norm for Christians today. Our decisive norm is biblical revelation. Nevertheless, I think we need to take seriously what the Christians in the first three centuries thought Jesus was saying. They were much closer to him in time than we are, and there is reason to think they would have had a pretty good understanding of what he meant. Therefore, given that every single Christian text we have on killing from the first three centuries, whether war, capital punishment, or abortion, says that Christians don’t do that, and with some frequency they say that’s because of what Jesus said and did, I think Christians today ought to listen to them with some seriousness.

(The above interview can be found at the web link here [accessed on 16th October 2013].)

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