The early chapters of Genesis answer the historical question, “Where did wars come from?” First, Satan led Adam and Eve into sin, which brought about God’s judgment of death (Genesis 2:17 with 3:1–7, 19). Then, Cain murdered Abel (Genesis 4:1–8, cf John 8:44 and 1 John 3:8–12). Lamech later killed (Genesis 4:23). Thereafter, human wickedness became great on earth (Genesis 6:5) and the world was filled with violence (Genesis 6:11, 13). Following the Genesis Flood kings went to war, being first mentioned in the Old Testament at Genesis 14:2–9. Sin in the life of every human being since then has frequently fomented violence and war which will continue until Christ conquers all in the final battle on earth (Revelation 20:8–10).

Today, North Korea, Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan, and Al-Qaeda dominate the headlines and remind us that war is a constant threat. This world situation prompts these oft-raised questions, “Should daughters and wives be in combat?” (See my response in Answers, July 2013) and “should daughters, wives, and mothers even serve in the military?”

The Law of the Land

No mandatory draft/conscription currently exists for American military service. However, men (only) ages 18 to 25 must by law register with the Selective Service System to facilitate a possible future draft, if deemed necessary. While our nation has fought in many wars over the centuries, the Selective Service System didn’t begin until 1917, and women have never had to register nor have they ever been drafted.

The U.S. Secretary of Defense instituted an all-volunteer armed force in 1973. The question of women in the military then rose to a much higher profile, where it has been ever since. The Selective Service System, authorized in Article 1 of the United States Constitution, has been upheld on several occasions by the Supreme Court. Because the military has now authorized women to be in combat, Washington insiders speculate that sooner or later women will have to register with the Selective Service, then be drafted, and possibly serve in combat, following a pattern that currently does not exist.

If women are obligated to register, then every daughter, wife, and mother (18 and over) will be required by law to comply. So should women be in the military, voluntarily or not? How should an individual Christian, pastor, or parent answer this pressing question?

Where to Start?

The answer should not necessarily depend upon a person’s intelligence, skills, bravery, physical strength, emotional stability, leadership potential, or any other human quality alone. Rather, it should ultimately be decided on spiritual guidance obtained from the divinely authoritative Word of God—the Bible.

Some might be tempted to reason that because the New Testament contains so many passages discussing spiritual conflict with the vocabulary of physical war, women have just as much right to be in a national military post as in a spiritual warfare billet. Consider this sample of New Testament metaphors:

  • The word “Satan” in both Hebrew and Greek means “adversary” or “enemy” (Numbers 22:22; Mark 1:13).
  • Ephesians 6:10–17 discusses the armor of a combatant.
  • Paul commanded “Fight the good fight” (1 Timothy 1:18; 6:12; 2 Timothy 4:7).
  • Christians are pictured as soldiers (Philippians 2:25; 2 Timothy 2:3–4).
  • The Bible refers to Christian weapons (2 Corinthians 10:4).
  • Scripture is spoken of as a sword (Hebrews 4:12).

However, spiritual warfare is so different from physical warfare that the comparison fails.

It is true that the earlier question about women in combat found an answer in a consistent Old Testament historical pattern.

  • Only men were counted to go to war (Numbers 1:2–3).
  • Only sons were chosen for war (1 Samuel 8:11).
  • Only men went to war (Genesis 14:14–15).
  • Daughters served in domestic roles (1 Samuel 8:13).
  • Wives and children did not go to war (Deuteronomy 3:19–20).
  • Women welcomed men back from war; never did they return with them (1 Samuel 18:6–7).

Further, the New Testament admonition that the church should consider what the Old Testament taught (2 Timothy 3:16–17) and the writings of the early church fathers both confirm the Old Testament pattern.

In contrast, the biblical answer to the question of women in the military today is not quite so clear as the answer to the question of women in combat.1 The New Testament never directly prohibits Christians from being in the military. For example, neither Christ nor Peter instructed centurions to separate from the Roman army (Matthew 8:5–13; Acts 10:1–43). On the other hand, Scripture never explicitly encourages military service either. The Bible exhorts believers to pray that government leaders will provide or allow for a tranquil and quiet life (1 Timothy 2:1–2). Scripture also urges Christians to obey those in authority over them (Romans 13:1–4; Titus 3:1; 1 Peter 2:13–14).

One might think that the answer to the “combat” question also applies to the “military” query. But modern warfare differs from ancient military action in that the former has more noncombatant than combatant roles while the latter had only combatant jobs. One must look further for a suitable response to the issue at hand today.

The Decision-Making Process

So how does one decide? It all begins with two questions. First, what are the primary roles of a woman in general and second, what does the Bible say about the morality of war? The supreme activities of a married woman as determined by Almighty God, not the contemporary culture, relate to loving and caring for her husband and her children (Genesis 2:18; Proverbs 31:10–31; Titus 2:3–5) while a single woman obviously has neither of those opportunities.

But one’s biblical beliefs about war are fundamental. Historically speaking, Christians have adopted four basic views.2

  • The pacifist view: A Christian should refuse all military participation and support of the military enterprise. This includes all law enforcement activities or industrial support of the defense establishment.
  • The non-resistance view: A Christian can participate in a military noncombatant role to do good such as making administrative, medical, or legal contributions.
  • The “just war” view: As a last resort a Christian can support a non-retaliatory war that involves limited objectives to obtain a greater good.
  • The preventive/preemptory view: A Christian can approve of taking the aggressor role to avoid greater harm that would be caused by delaying.

Now with these preliminaries in mind, let’s look at the following proposed decision-making format:

Step One: Decide which biblical view of war best fits Scripture.

Step Two: If you decide you are a pacifist (male or female), then you have already made the decision not to be associated with the military directly or indirectly, regardless of gender.

Step Three: If you decide that nonresistance best describes the biblical teaching, then you are possibly able to be involved, but only in noncombatant roles. The primary gender responsibility now comes into play. Can wives and mothers fulfill their most important roles to husband and children and still be in the military, even in noncombatant roles?

Married women should not serve in the military, because of the possibility of a deployment, which would result in the neglect of their highest biblical responsibilities—taking care of the home. This is probably the reason that neither the Old nor New Testament tells of a woman in the military.

So a “non-resistance” military position for a wife or mother does not have biblical support. However, this option would be permissible, but not always best, for an unmarried Christian woman.

Step Four: The same logic would also be true for those who espouse the just war or preventive war position. The chart below illustrates the decision-making process. Only the non-resistance, just war, or preventive war view, gives single women biblical freedom to consider non-combatant positions in the military.

“Should I or Should I Not?”

Views Yes No Reason
Pacifist—Single   X Pacifist
Pacifist—Married   X Pacifist
Non-Resistance,
Just War, or
Preventive War—Single
X   Single
Non-Resistance,
Just War, or
Preventive War—Married
  X Wife/Mother

How did the early church handle this ethical issue? There does not appear to have been a consensus or majority view in the early church nor at any period up to the present.3 However with the passage of time, it seems that the church moved from leaning toward a pacifist view to more of a just war view.

In the end, only single women with particular convictions about war can possibly serve in the military, although not as combatants. But one last question remains, “What is God’s will for me?” And that must be determined on an individual basis.4 Also, one’s parents and pastor should definitely be included in the decision-making process before coming to a final choice.

Dr. Richard Mayhue, Executive Vice President and Dean of The Master’s Seminary since 1990, has authored, edited, or contributed to over 30 books, including Coming to Grips with Genesis.

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Footnotes

  1. The following volumes will be helpful to expand this discussion: Roland Bainton, Christian Attitudes Toward War and Peace (1960, repr., Eugene, OR: Wipf & Stock, 2008). J. Daryl Charles and Timothy J. Demy, War, Peace, and Christianity (Downers Grove, IL: Crossway, 2010). Arthur F. Holmes, War and Christian Ethics, 2nd ed. (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2005). Back
  2. Robert G. Clouse, ed., War: Four Christian Views (1981; repr., Winona Lake, IN: BMH Books, 1991) provides the single best volume which objectively provides the pros and cons of each view from a biblical perspective. Back
  3. Francis Young, “The Early Church: Military Service, War and Peace” Theology 92 (1989): 491–503 and David G. Hunter, “A Decade of Research on Early Christians and Military Service” Religious Studies Review 18 (April 1992): 87–94. Back
  4. A helpful book to consult would be John MacArthur, Found: God’s Will (1973; repr., Colorado Springs: David C. Cook, 2012). Back