April 1980 · Vol. 9 No. 2 · p. 40 

Book Review

The Problem of War in the Old Testament

Peter C. Craigie. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1978. 125 pages.

Reviewed by Stephen Penner

Craigie understands that the problem of war in the Old Testament relates to the larger concern of the relationship between the Old and New Testaments. This issue undergirds the theological “problem of God” which rises from the common Old Testament motif of God as Warrior. Craigie explains that this image illustrates God’s activity in human history. God does not shy away from the human phenomenon of war but rather participates in it for the purpose of man’s ultimate redemption and judgment. Furthermore, God’s warrior activities, while not condoning warfare, at least show that hope exists within this human predicament.

The author also wrestles with the “problem of revelation.” Why is it that so much of Scripture is concerned with war literature? Craigie points out that war is a reality of man and the state. The Old Testament does not distort this grim fact. Old Testament war literature shows the reality of the human situation and prepared for the New Testament kingdom which submits to violence rather than exercising violence.

The issue of the Old Testament-New Testament relationship also underscores the “problem of ethics.” Craigie argues that Old Testament principles must go through a “translation” process before they are applied to modern Christians. He concludes that both Testaments show great respect for human life but that the Kingdom of God as portrayed in the New Testament does not allow its citizens to be bound by the state’s customary use of violence.

The author hopes his discussion of the god as Warrior motif, the revelation problem, and the tension between Old and New Testament ethics can provide the basis for an explanation of the war literature in the Old Testament, showing its theological significance as well as demonstrating the Old Testament hope of peace while facing up to the reality of war.

Craigie also speaks to the overt historical relationship between later Christianity and warfare. Christians must face the fact that the faith has long been intricately tied to war and violence. In seeking to loosen this link, he is very careful in distinguishing between the war-like ways of the state and the Kingdom of God. Nor does he leave any room for transferring the ways of ancient Israel to the modern nation state. However, his own position tends too easily to allow his “Christian realism” to erode his pacifist principles of the Kingdom of God. He accepts the paradox of belonging to both kingdoms and fears to disrupt that paradox in favor of the Kingdom of God. Thus Craigie shuns a pure pacifism while denying the notion of a “just war.” Though his position is, as he admits, somewhat “woolly” Craigie does remind us how difficult it is to be “in” the world but not “of” it.