Does God condone torture?



I have spoken to many Christians (some of them pastors) and they have told me that torturing enemy prisoners is morally acceptable on the grounds that it saves innocent lives. I find this difficult to accept at face value.  What does the Bible say about the subject of torture?  Does God condone torture?  If so, under what circumstances?  Thank you for your time in responding.



Dear Jason,

The fact is that the Bible doesn’t specifically address everything that we might encounter in life.  So often we have to look for Biblical principles that are applicable.  Torture is one of those subjects that aren’t specifically addressed in the Bible as to whether it’s okay or not.  But it’s fairly easy to look at the applicable Biblical principles and draw some conclusions.  Let’s look for some clues in those Biblical principles.  

Jesus said that we are to love our enemies and do good to them. 

1.    The only examples of torture that we see anywhere in the Bible are when evil people tortured righteous people.  And the most famous example is the torture of Jesus.  There are no examples of where righteous people tortured anyone for any reason.  (So that’s our first clue.)

2.    Jesus said that we are to treat others as we would want to be treated ourselves.  (Matthew 22:36-40)  In fact, Jesus said in this passage that loving God and loving others as we ourselves would like to be loved are the very foundations of all other Scripture.  (This is our second clue.)

3.    Christians are required to see Christ in our fellow man.  (Matthew 25:34-46)  Jesus explained in this passage that however we treat others is tantamount to how we treat Him.  So doing good … or doing bad to our fellow man, is the same as doing good … or doing bad to Jesus Christ.

4.    Jesus said that we are to love our enemies and do good to them.  (Luke 6:27 & 35)  In context, how we treat our enemies is a reflection of who we are in Christ.  In fact, in Luke 6:35, He explained that the Lord Himself is kind to those who are ungrateful and wicked! (Our fourth clue.)

5.    God’s people have always been called to forgive those who offend us and hurt us. (Matthew 6:14)  In fact, Jesus explained that if we do not forgive those who hurt us, God will not forgive us!  (Matthew 6:15)  Moreover, we are to honor everyone (1 Peter 2:17) – which we do when we value all human life.  (A fifth clue.)

6.    The Apostle Paul taught that God wants us to not only forgive our enemies, but he went on to spell out what Jesus meant when He told us to do good to them.  Paul explained that if our enemy needs food, we are to feed them.  If they need water, we should give them water.  Our position with evil should always be to overcome evil with good.  (Romans 12:17-21)  (A final clue.)(Our third clue.)

Our position with evil should always be to overcome evil with good.

Are you starting to get the picture here?  There is no place in either the Old or New Testament where torture of any kind is condoned.  Not mental torture, not physical torture.  There are numerous examples of where God enabled His people to kill their evil enemies — but even then, only when it was a matter of their own survival and God knew that they would never repent.  (So we could rationally conclude here that God would rather see us kill our enemies than torture them.)

I am aware that many Americans who call themselves Christians believe that torture is justified.  (Former President George W. Bush appears to be one of them.)  But there is no support for such a position in Scripture.

Why then do otherwise seemingly good people come to the wrong conclusion that torture can be justified?  I believe it is because they are afraid and they are angry.  It is human nature to fear that which we cannot control, especially when it threatens to harm us.  It is also human nature to get angry over injustices that our enemies may inflict upon us or anyone else.  But the fact is that God calls His people to overcome their human nature.  He calls his people to stand against their popular culture.

Let’s look at a couple more Biblical principles that should guide our response to evil in our enemies:

•    We should not make fear-based decisions.  The Lord has commanded His people to “be strong and courageous.  Do not be frightened or dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.”  (Joshua 1:9)  God has not given us a spirit of fear, but rather “He has given us a spirit of power and love and self-control.” (2 Timothy 1:7)

Every single book in the Bible, throughout the Old and New Testaments, is specific that God’s people are not to fear.  Every single book!  And the fact that God does not give anyone fear tells us where fear does come from … the devil!  So any time that we make a decision based on our fears, we are making a decision using the wrong criteria.  To clarify that point, making fear-based decisions is evil.

•    We should not act on our anger over injustice that is done to us.  Jesus said that we should “not resist the one who is evil” and that we should learn to “turn the other cheek” when we are wronged.  (Matthew 5:38-39)  The Apostle Paul taught that we should “never avenge ourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God.”  (Romans 12:19)  Paul further explained that we should “never sin in our anger” (Ephesians 4:26-27) and that we should “see that no one ever repays evil for evil.”  (1 Thessalonians 5:15)

We are to pray for our enemies. 

So the picture is clear that when we are attacked by an evil enemy, we are to set aside our hurt, our fear and our indignation.  Instead, we are to first trust in the Lord.  We are to forgive.  We are to pray for our enemies.  We are to turn the other cheek.  We are to do good to our enemies.  (I don’t know about you, but I see a strong case for diplomacy here!)

So let’s be clear.  Torture cannot be Biblically justified under any circumstances.

About Larry Walker

Larry Walker loves God and loves people. He has a heart for teaching people how to follow Jesus Christ in all aspects of life. He has worked for years in a recovery ministry called Celebrate Recovery, and also counsels many Pastors throughout the country. Larry answers questions and provides practical application of biblical principles in everyday life. If you've got a question....ask Larry!

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  1. Jason says

    Larry, Thank you for addressing this issue. These are more or less the same conclusions I arrived at but to hear them from a more authoritative source than myself really helps to build my faith. One other thing I had wondered about was the idea that torture is also an act of idolatry because in commiting the act of torture, one elevated their own will above that of God which is the very same sin that got Adam and Eve expelled from from the garden of Eden to begin with. -Jason

  2. alan says

    Agree with all that has been written. On the other side, Jesus mentions hell as the place of torture as the reason why we should not sin, saying it would be better to cut off your hand and foot and eye rather than be thrown into hell,”where their worm never dies and the fire is not quenched.” Whether you take that literally or figuratively, it is a place of misery. My followup question is when it is right for a Christian today to take up arms in the light of the reasons given why we should love our enemies and not torture? Should we be Quakers and pacifists, or fight according to the principles of a just war? To make it more specific, there are two current ongoing situations in Africa where Christians are being attacked and killed in Africa by Muslims. In northern Nigeria, Boko Haram has attacked Christian villages trying to establish a Muslim state, and since 1999 are responsible for over 14,000 deaths according to the US government. The pastors there have told the believers that they should not take revenge,and for the most part have been successful however the government has not been able to stop the attacks and villages are still being attacked. In Central African Republic, a country that is 76% Christian, a Muslim rebel group deposed the president and militias went out killing Christians. There Christians formed their own militias and the chaos and cycle of violence now happening in the CAR makes it impossible to distinguish Christian from Muslim. Which is the better way, or more importantly, which way is according to Christ? If Jesus was drafted, would he pick up a gun for his country, or refuse as a conscientious objector and go to jail? For my part, have come to the conclusion (for now) that if my family was in Nigeria, that if I was attacked personally that I should turn the other cheek, but if my wife and kids were attacked that I would do what I need to do to defend them, even if it took arms to do that. I think this would be the right thing to do, but I can feel the inconsistency. It is the same thing I felt when I heard Christian leaders defend the use of torture.

  3. Jason says

    Jesus wasn’t a pacifist. I too would use violence to defend my family, in fact scripture even tells us that he who does not provide for his family is an infidel and is worse than an unbeliever. Part of providing for one’s family means providing defense against aggression. So pacifism is not God’s will, or so it appears to me. At the same time, torture is not justifiable as a means of defense. Inflicting suffering on somebody who is already under your control is not an act of defense, it is a calculated act of evil. As far as hell is concerned, and the tortures involved in that, I think that this is a judgement that is reserved exclusively for God alone and no human has the authority to impose this on another human. This brings me back to my earlier statement in which I posit that torture is a form of idolatry. In the act of torture, the torturer is arrogating to themselves the authority of God, which is just another way of making oneself equal to God. That’s the same sin that got Lucifer kicked out of heaven in the first place. I think that in the end, the people who torture terrorists are going to find themselves in hell right beside those very same terrorists, as are the church goers and pastors who rally in support of torture. 2 John 1: 11 says “For he that biddeth him God speed is partaker of his evil deeds”. Granted, that scripture is referring specifically to people who do not bear the doctrine of Christ (probably meaning Jewish zealots), but the principle of the scripture is obvious, God says that if you bless somebody who is committing a sin, you become a participant in that sin.

  4. Larry says

    Jason & Alan – let’s not get confused here. Providing for one’s own family is NOT the same as using violence to protect one’s own family or loved ones. The simple answer is that it is okay to take up arms in a war when a Biblical principal takes us there. I’ve written & taught a curriculum on conflict – and while there’s not room to publish it here right now – the short answer is that PRAYER should be our first response to conflict. So, for example, if I had been President of the U.S. on 9/11, I would have called the nation to prayer and asked the Lord how He would want us to respond to those circumstances. Alan, I don’t find any basis in Scripture for being a “conscientious objector” and refusing to fight on the principal of war. On the other hand, I believe that if the Lord does call Christians into battle – we should look for His victory in that battle.

  5. Anonymous says

    “Providing for one’s own family is NOT the same as using violence to protect one’s own family or loved ones.” It’s not? Uh-oh. Where am I going wrong with this idea and what do I do if my family is confronted by violence? I can’t just stand by and do nothing.

  6. alan says

    Larry, thanks for your post and if you have taught on it, you have thought more deeply about it. I have more questions than answers. In the current situations in Nigeria and CAR where Christians are under similar threats but have responded in opposite ways, which way is according to Christ? Would Jesus join or lead a militia in CAR, or bear the injustice like Christians in Nigeria? Or, is there another way? With regard to conscientious objectors, not sure if there is not a place for this. The people of God now are not based on nationality but scattered thru all nations, and when nations fight against nations, it will be true that Christians kill Christians. When the people of God were together as the nation of Israel, you find warrant in the OT for the destruction of nations who are ungodly. But all that seems to go with the New Testament, and altho under an oppressive Roman empire, the words and actions of Jesus are to love your enemies not take up arms. As the US becomes more secular and Christianity becomes more marginalized or opposed (i.e. gay marriage) there may come a time when American Christians are called to arms for an unjust war. If memory serves, Frances Schaeffer in “A Christian Manifesto” calls for nonviolent noncompliance to an unjust government. Some years ago, Bartolome Blanco Marquez was ordered to destroy Catholic Churches and kill the priests by the right wing Franco government. Rather than follow, he refused the orders, was arrested, convicted and killed by firing squad. When he was being led to the firing squad, he insisted on going barefooted “in order to be more conformed to Christ.” He insisted on facing the firing squad, saying that “whoever dies for Christ should do so standing straight and facing forward.” He cried out “Long live Christ the King” as he was shot. Agree that prayer should precede and there are no easy answers or ones that apply to all situations. But thinking about how Biblical principles apply in current situations can be helpful in sorting things out.

  7. Larry says

    Jason, let’s look at Jesus’ response to the violence that was inflicted on Him. He sought His Father’s will. And then He did it. I believe any Christ-follower should do the same. Quite possibly God will tell you to fight. But possibly He will not. Jesus knew they were going to kill Him. God said He should let them. If I felt someone was going to kill me and prayed about it, would I be willing to let them kill me if God said so? That is really the question here. Our human instinct is to fight. But we are called to rise above our human instincts — and seek God’s will first and foremost.

  8. Larry says

    Alan, I agree with your thinking. I also think you answer your own question in telling the story of Bartolome Blanco Marquez. He was willing to die. He could have joined (or started) a militia and fought against an unjust govt. He chose not to. I believe that reflects the character of Christ. I know that here in the U.S. we have many gun-toting Christians who are ready to fight against an unjust govt. or any evil. But I’m reminded of the fact that to live is Christ, but to die is gain (Philippians 1:21). So I would rather be killed than kill.

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