Answering Islam - A Christian-Muslim dialog

Introduction to the Sword in Early Christianity and Islam

James M. Arlandson, Ph.D.

Worldwide jihad and military actions against the West continue apace. No end appears in sight. What is needed at this time in our history – and worldwide histories – is clarity. One way to achieve it is to look back.

These historical narratives or storylines have similar patterns and some differences. The seeds of jihad have been planted in the past, and they have grown up. The seeds of military action against jihad have also grown up. If we never learn from the past, we are doomed to repeat it. But even if history was violent, can we reform ourselves and move past violence?

For the first three centuries Christianity did not wage war or endorse a church-wide policy of the sword.[1] Then, with the imperial rule of later Roman emperors who became Christian, this policy changed. Did the later church wander off from its original path, or did the church follow it?

For 1,400 years Islam has used the sword, from almost the very beginning to now. Where did this religion get this sword policy? Did it wander off from the true path, or did those who led Islam follow it? How do we decide when a religion strays or remains true?

Jesus and Muhammad set the institutional genetic code for their respective religions. What were their policies regarding the sword?

This series, covering only the very origins of Christianity and Islam, separated from each other by six hundred years (Christianity in the first century, Islam in the seventh), attempts to answer these questions, in a comparative study:

  • What was Jesus’ policy on the kingdom of God and the kingdom of Caesar?
  • Should the two realms be kept separate?
  • What did he think about death and taxes?
  • What did Jesus think of geopolitical holy sites like Jerusalem and its temple?
  • Did he really try to set up another theocracy in the holy land, but could not manage it?
  • What was his opinion about the Roman military when he met a centurion?
  • Are swords mentioned in the Gospels?
  • If so, how were they intended to be used?
  • What does Jesus’ statement mean: “I have not come to bring peace to the earth, but a sword”?
  • Was Jesus a pacifist?
  • Did he believe that one day the world system as he knew it would be peaceful, so no weapons would be needed?
  • Did he intend the world to be pacifist? Did he hope it would?
  • How did the early church view the kingdom of God and the kingdom of Caesar?
  • Did the early Christians carry swords?
  • Should the government in their day be permitted to carry them, or should the early Christians preach against it? Did they?
  • Why were these early Christians persecuted so much?
  • Did they form militias to protect themselves?
  • Christianity grew out of Judaism, so how were the relations between Jews and Jesus and his earliest followers?
  • Did he and the early Christians persecute Jews? Were they anti-Semitic?
  • How were Jesus and some of his early followers martyred? Did they fight their attackers with swords?
  • Are Christians today permitted to carry swords (or modern weapons)?
  • Can weapons be used for self-defense?
  • Are there differences in the policies about the sword between the church as an institution and individual Christians living in society?
  • What should the church’s policy be on war and peace today?
  • Should the church today counsel the state to turn the other cheek?
  • Are Christians permitted to join the police force and the military?
  • If so, then how can they "love their enemies," but may have to kill some of them?
  • What should Christians do if the government refuses to protect them from violent thugs and militias?

For Islam’s part we attempt to answer these questions:

  • Did Muhammad ever follow the path of peace, or did he only wage war all the time?
  • What was Muhammad’s policy regarding the sword?
  • What did he think about geopolitical holy sites like the Kabah shrine that housed the black stone in Mecca?
  • Did he really have the option to follow two paths – peace or war? Or are both paths possible at the same time?
  • Why are there so many verses about warfare in the Quran?[2]
  • Are the war verses in the Quran historically and culturally restricted and therefore have an expiration date?
  • Are there any peaceful verses?
  • What does “jihad” really mean?
  • What does the alternate word “qital” mean?
  • Are there any rules that govern jihad in early Islam?
  • If so, what are they?
  • What did Muhammad think about death and taxes?
  • What were Muhammad’s relations with the Jews like?
  • After he died, how did the earliest Muslims follow his policies?
  • Did they wage war?
  • How did they follow the Quran and his example?
  • How did early Islam define justice?
  • What did they think about death and taxes?
  • What is early Islam’s view of martyrdom?
  • Can Islam reform? If so, how?
  • Does it see even the need to do this, or does truth need fundamental reform?

Answering these questions by laying out the basic historical facts about the origins of these two religions will bring us clarity. Only when we see can we change.

Let’s place the two religions article by article, side by side. And sometimes they are placed side by side within the same article.

Is there any hope for Christian-Muslim relations? For all of humanity?

Let’s find out together in this comparative study of two world religions at their very origins, when the institutional genetic code was set.


[First published: 1 May 2012]
[Last updated: 13 July 2012]

Articles in the Series:

1. Introduction

2. The Mission of Jesus and the Sword
3. The Mission of Muhammad and the Sword

4. The Gospels and the Sword
5. The Quran and the Sword

6. Two Kinds of Swords

7. The Early Church and the Sword
8. The Early Muslim Community and the Sword

9. The Sword and the Jews

10. Martyrdom and the Sword

11. Q & A on the Sword

12. Conclusion

[1] In this series the word “sword” stands in for weapons of any kind today and for violence or physical force of any kind, like wars, assassinations, law enforcement, the military, self-defense, and so on.

[2] Quran = Koran. The two English words are the same sacred book. Here in this series we use the word “Quran” instead of “Koran.”