Those who are interested in the topic of War & Peace on this site should be sure and read Ronald Sider’s excellent article The Early Church on War and Killing on the Books & Culture website sponsored by Christianity Today. Sider reviews the arguments of two recent authors, John F. Shean and Despina Iosif who, in separate works, “argue that early Christians held widely divergent views [toward violence and military service], and that the ‘rigorist, pacifist stance of selected authors has been overly emphasized at the expense of archaeological, epigraphic and literary evidence showing Christian participation in the military almost since the very inception of the faith.'” He then summarizes his own research published in The Early Church on Killing: A Comprehensive Sourcebook on War, Abortion, and Capital Punishment, a work I have not yet read but fully intend to. In Sider’s own words, “This sourcebook contains every extant statement I could find by Christian authors up to the time of Constantine relating directly to killing. It also includes all relevant inscriptions on tombstones and other archaeological data.”
Contrary to the claims of many just-war proponents, Sider states, the evidence really is pretty one-sided. “The extant historical data make two things perfectly clear. First, as early as 173, there were at least a few Christians in the Roman army. By the late 3rd and early 4th centuries, their numbers were growing substantially, although we lack the data to say how many there were. And second, every single extant pre-Constantinian document by Christian authors that discusses the topic of whether Christians dare ever kill or join the army says no.”
As I said, I’m going to read this book and I may well have more to say once I’ve done so. In the meantime, I recommend the article for sure, and for those who are serious about this topic I rather suspect that the book is a must-have.