Is it true that Jesus did nothing of a violent nature during his lifetime?

In this question and answer post, find out from Gerald Sigal whether Jesus did anything of violent nature during his lifetime.

Is it true that in conformity with Isaiah 53:9, "he had done no violence," Jesus did nothing of a violent nature during his lifetime?

Answer: No, this is not true.

Violence, while not always an act of evil, may be defined as causing injury or damage by rough or abusive treatment. If the New Testament account is true, Jesus did commit certain acts of violence. Whip in hand he attacked the merchants in the Temple area, causing a fracas (Matthew 21:12, Mark 11:15-16, Luke 19:45, John 2:15). He caused the death, by drowning, of a herd of swine by allowing demons to purposely enter their bodies (Matthew 8:32, Mark 5:13, Luke 8:33) and destroyed a fig tree for not having fruit out of season (Matthew 21:18-21, Mark 11:13-14).

Whether Jesus was right or wrong in attacking the merchants, or cursing a tree for not bearing fruit out of season, or permitting demons to enter the swine herd, causing their death, is of little consequence, because violence is violence. But, in these cases, the problem goes much deeper. Chamas is used in the Hebrew Scriptures to denote general injustice and violence (for example, Genesis 6:11, 13; Jeremiah 22:3); it is also used as a reference to a theft that has been obtained violently or unjustly (Jonah 3:6). Chamas, "violence," "wrong," "injury," "cruelty," is used in our verse to denote general injustice and violence. Included would be violent acts of vandalization where no personal gain was apparent. Involved in Jesus' attack on the merchants, the cursing of the fig tree, or permitting demons to enter the swine is a general injustice brought about by a violent act. In each incident people were deprived of their property through destructive acts of violence. No matter how one may justify Jesus' course of action it did involve general injustice and violence against other people's property. In each case, Jesus denied the owners their rightful use of their own property. The violation of another's rights is injustice. Jesus' actions fall within the definitions of chamas which denote general injustice and violence. But, to be precise, we are most concerned with the fact that the use of the word chamas indicates that some form of violence has occurred.

Jesus' acts of violence, even if they could be shown to be justified, demonstrate that he did not literally fulfill this description of the servant. But, it should be emphasized, these acts of violence, as they are recorded in the Gospels, are injustices. Jesus was not averse to using violence and held no general principle against violent action. If Jesus was truly non-violent he could not have uttered his call to family strife and divisiveness. Jesus proudly avows that his is a mission which will cause discord and disturb the universal peace, and bring war to the world (Matthew 10:34-35, Luke 12:49-53).

In Matthew 23:35 Jesus unjustly accuses the Jewish people of being responsible for the murder of all the righteous of mankind from Abel to Zechariah. This includes even the period of time before there was a Jewish people. In addition, Jesus called for his opponents to be brought before him for summary execution: "But these enemies of mine who did not want me to reign over them, bring them here, and slay them in my presence" (Luke 19:27). This is the love, compassion, and nonviolence that Jesus taught. In both instances he gives encouragement to his later followers to use violence against the Jewish people. The Jesus of the Gospels does not meet the criteria set for the suffering servant in the phrase "had done no violence."


© Gerald Sigal