Old Testament Violence vs. Jihad - What's the difference?

Are the commands of God to the Israelites in the OT the same as jihad in the Qur'an? What are some differences between the violence found in the Bible and Islamic jihad?

Thanks for your question. The Qur'an, Islam's holy book, provides instructions to engage in violence as apart of "holy war" (jihad). Jihad means "striving" or "struggle." Within Islam there are four different types of jihad:

  • (1) Jihad of the heart/soul concerns combating "evil" (un-Islamic) desires and the devil in the attempt to escape his persuasion to evil.

  • (2) Jihad by the tongue/pen is concerned with promoting the word of Islam verbally or in writing.

  • (3) Jihad by the hand refers to choosing to do what is right and to combat injustice with "action" (e.g. demanding "special consideration," protests, etc.).

  • (4) Jihad by the sword which refers to armed fighting in the way of Allah (holy war). This is the most common usage of the term jihad within Islam (98% of the references in the Sahih Bukhari refers to this sense of warfare).

In the remainder of my answer when I refer to jihad, I'm speaking of this later usage - i.e. violent holy war.

Sharia law is the religious law forming part of the Islamic tradition. Within classical Islamic jurisprudence (fiqh, meaning "deep understanding" or "full comprehension") jihad is the only form of warfare allowed under Sharia. It includes war against Non-Muslims, heretics, apostates, rebels, dissenters, etc. The essential aim of jihad is the expansion of the Islamic state, not the conversion of non-Muslims.

There are 164 jihad verses in the Qur'an [1]. Some of the most violent verses in the Qur'an were handed down following Muhammad's ascension to power, when there was no threat to Islam or Muslim's. Here is a sampling:

8:39 "Fight them until all opposition ends and all submit to Allah."

8:39 "So fight them until there is no more Fitnah [disbelief, non-Muslims] and all submit to the religion of Allah alone [world-wide dominion]."

8:65 "O Prophet, urge the faithful to fight. If there are twenty among you with determination they will vanquish two hundred; if there are a hundred then they will slaughter a thousand unbelievers, for the infidels are a people devoid of understanding."

9:5 "Fight and kill the disbelievers wherever you find them, take them captive, harass them, lie in wait and ambush them using every stratagem of war."

9:29 "Fight those who do not believe until they all surrender, paying the protective tax in submission."

9:88 "The Messenger and those who believe with him, strive hard and fight with their wealth and lives in Allah's Cause."

9:112 "The Believers fight in Allah's Cause, they slay and are slain, kill and are killed."

9:123 "Fight the unbelievers around you, and let them find harshness in you."

In addition to the teachings of the Qur'an, Muslims also follow the Hadith (sacred to Muslims as it is said to be a record of Muhammad's words and actions). The Hadith identifies how Muhammad instructed his military leaders when sending out upon an expedition:

Fight in the name of Allah and in the way of Allah. Fight against those who disbelieve in Allah . . . When you meet your enemies who are polytheists, invite them to three courses of action. If they respond to any one of these, you also accept it and withhold yourself from doing them any harm. Invite them to [accept] Islam; if they respond to you, accept it from them and desist from fighting against them. . . If they refuse to accept Islam, demand from them the Jizya [a fine]. If they agree to pay, accept it from them and hold off your hands. If they refuse to pay the tax, seek Allahs' help and fight them [2].

So, Islam commands jihad against "all" other religions, non-Muslims, even other Muslims (9:37; 17:33), if they are heretics, apostates, rebels, dissenters, etc. Its goal is the advancement of the Islamic state.

The Bible in the Old Testament (OT) also has commands of violence. When this question arises most cite, Deuteronomy 2:33-34, saying, "And the Lord our God delivered him over to us; and we defeated him with his sons and all his people. So we captured all his cities at that time, and utterly destroyed the men, women and children of every city. We left no survivor" (also see, Deut 7:2-5; Num 21:35; 1 Sam. 15:3).

What, God commanded the slaughter of woman and children? YES!

First, God is the one who gives life and so he may also take it at his will (Heb 9:27). Job understood this principle of life and death. After hearing of a violent wind taking the life of his sons and daughters (Job 1:18), he stated, "Naked came I out of my mother's womb, and naked shall I return thither: the Lord gave, and the Lord hath taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord. In all this Job sinned not, nor charged God foolishly" (Job 1:21-22). God is sovereign over all including life and death. It is his right.

Second, all mankind is evil. Since the Fall of mankind all are enslaved in sin. "In Adam" we are all sinners (original sin, Rom 5:12-21). We aren't sinners because we sin, we sin because we are sinners. In other words, it is our very nature. Ex: A cat acts like a cat, because it is a cat. A dog acts like a dog, because it is a dog. And we sin, because we are sinners.

The wages of sin are death (Eccl 7:20; Rom 3:23). There are no exceptions to this (Psa 51:5; 58:3). Death is the verdict. As harsh as it may sound, even children deserve to die. God is the Perfect Judge and can't sin (Gen 18:25; Psa 119:137). He can't make a mistake. When anyone dies, God, while not the author of sin, is always somewhere in the details (Heb 9:27). See "How Can an Innocent Child be Wicked from the Womb? Psalm 58:3" below.

Third, Deuteronomy speaks of a brutal wicked depraved people. Among other sins, this culture was into bestiality, cultic prostitution, and even child sacrifice by fire (cf. Lev 18:25). Their sin is the reason God gives for their destruction in Deuteronomy 9:4-6, saying, "It is not for your righteousness or for the uprightness of your heart that you are going to possess their land, but it is because of the wickedness of these nations that the Lord your God is driving them out before you, in order to confirm the oath which the Lord swore to your fathers, to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob." God had been very patient, giving them over 400 years to repent (Gen 15:13-16; 2 Pet 3:9). We know the news reached them concerning the God of the Israelites because Rahab the Harlot repented and believed in Yahweh (Josh. 2:9-11; Heb 11:30-31; cf. Josh 9:9). Besides:

(1) Sodom and Gomorrah were close to Canaanite territory. Certainly they heard of its destruction and the deliverance of Lot's family (Gen. 18-19).

(2) Abraham lived among the Canaanites. He delivered Lot from the 4 kings (Gen. 14). His faith in God should have been witness enough.

(3) King Melchizedek was king of Jerusalem and also "priest of God Most High" (Gen 14:18). Wouldn't he have taught his people (Gen 14:19)?

However, they refused to repent and God used Israel to enact his capital punishment. Capital punishment is biblical (Gen. 14; 9:4; Rom 13:4, etc.). See "Capital Punishment" and "Is God pleased with the death of the wicked? - Ezekiel 18:32; 33:11" below.

So, in the OT we do observe that violence was prescribed in some instances, but it was only during a specific time and targeted very specific wicked people. This is quite different from the broad spectrum that Islamic jihad still covers today. From the earliest days of Islam, to the Crusades, to 9-11, to 2016 (in 476 Islamic attacks in 59 countries, 21,239 people were murdered - and another 26,677 injured). [3] Jihad continues to murder on.


[1] Natan, Yoel. "164 Jihad Verses in the Koran." Answering Islam. 02/18/2017.
[2] Sunnah.com, Sahih Muslim 1731 a, b. Book 32, Hadith 3: Book 19, Hadith 4294. 02/18/2017.
[3] TheReligionofPeace.com, 02/18/2017.

Related Topics:

Capital Punishment
Is God pleased with the death of the wicked? - Ezekiel 18:32; 33:11
How Can an Innocent Child be Wicked from the Womb? Psalm 58:3
Is Abortion Murder?
Violent Resistance

Answer by Dr. Joseph R. Nally, Jr.

Dr. Joseph R. Nally, Jr., D.D., M.Div. is the Theological Editor at Third Millennium Ministries (Thirdmill).