Is playing violent video games against the Bible?

Questions about God, the Bible and the Christian culture 

Question: What does the bible say about violent video games?

Answer: Greetings friend. I’ll be pleased to respond to your question today. However, there is nothing in your question that tells me whether or not you are a Christian, and that will affect the second part of my answer — the explanations and qualifications. But since you came to a God-honoring website to ask a question about the Bible itself, I’ll proceed from a Christian perspective and discuss video games.

The direct answer to your question is very brief, only two lines, and it applies to Christians and non-Christians alike, so we’ll cover that right here. Since the Bible as we accept it (Genesis through Revelation) was completed about two thousand years before the advent of violent video games, Scripture says nothing about them. That is the precise answer to your question, but I’ll admit that it’s not much use as it stands. We need to examine some of the issues related to biblical interpretation and application to make some earthly sense of the answer, but before we do, let us talk about violence as a separate entity.

“Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid.” (John 14:27, ESV)

The characteristic that sets the Christian apart is peace, and this we receive (exclusively) through Jesus Christ. But peace is not, as the world supposes, merely the absence of turmoil or war. Peace is an emotional behavior. It is that calm assurance that we experience during war or during turmoil. We wouldn’t have to exercise this peace so much if we lived in a sin-free world, but we don’t, of course, and God’s word records the resultant strife. This is why the Bible is so full of violence. It reports on it. But it does not promote it.

It is true, however, that God encourages his people to fight against evil, and quite often through a righteous war. But this is only a temporary necessity. We look forward to a time when Christ himself will put all things aright. In the meantime, we, as sinners, are quite stuck with violence, and we shall be until that great day, or until God takes us home. I say all this because I do not necessarily believe that playing war games creates a warring people. We are a warring people... and we were so way before video games were ever invented! After our expulsion from Eden, strife has been our ambient condition and war our reasonable expectation.

However, there is a difference between being a warrior and celebrating violence. God never celebrates violence! And when video games do that, they have become evil itself. But for the remainder of this discussion, I shall talk about video games in general and not separate out the violent ones, because violence will no longer be in focus in the answer. So, on to the Bible and video games!

The Bible is just like any other piece of writing in that it is not responsible to address topics that are beyond its intended scope, and twenty-first-century electronics fit that category. The fact that a video game has no direct biblical reference is not a problem. Just as you would not expect a Physics textbook to conjugate Spanish verbs, so you should not expect the Bible to directly address physical items that were future to its writers. However, some people may interpret certain passages in the Bible that way, and perhaps you have run into that.

People do have the right to interpret Bible passages anyway they choose, but they do not have the right to say that those interpretations came from Mount Sinai. Interpretations of Scripture are not Scripture. They are merely the ideas of human minds. Therefore, although no literal interpretation of Scripture could ever point to a video game, literal interpretation is not the only game in town. Passages may also be interpreted symbolically, with all the tools of literature in play. Simile, metaphor, hyperbole and fantasy all show up in the Bible. The trick is to handle each type appropriately, of course, but this is an unfortunate rarity. For instance, there is a certain school of eschatology (future events as per the Bible) that is congruent when it says that many of today’s electronics show up as part of Revelation’s apocalypse — but we are talking congruency and not objective truth. Congruency only reflects a logical connectedness, and it can do this either with or without objective truth. In the Bible, video games simply get no play, either good or bad, so someone would really have to make an interpretive stretch to plug them in.

We have a real problem in Christianity where people give biblical credence to extra-biblical ideas. For instance, an interpreter with an abnormal hate of video games could take any biblical mention of sloth or idleness and say that God is using that verse to teach about video games in our time — and he might be right in teaching that as a practical application. However, he would be out of bounds by insisting that this is what the verse meant. What does this mean to a Christian gamer? It means that, technically, he is in the clear. The Bible does not tell him either to stop or to continue... but we should only rarely stand on a biblical technicality. Why so? The Bible is, by and large, not a technical document. It is a spiritual one, and the salient spiritual truths should always inform the technical ones.

What are the salient biblical truths? In this case, honor your father and mother (Exodus 20:12) comes to mind. If a gamer were still living in his parent’s house, and his parents directed him to cut back on his gaming, the fact that the Bible did not specifically address gaming would not give him the right, on biblical grounds, to overrule his parents. The plainly stated and salient biblical truths are that we should obey parents and give honor to those in authority (Romans 13:1), and a technical biblical inclusion or exclusion will never trump that — nor would any convoluted interpretation of scripture. We are always “stuck” with the main things and the plain things. God made them plain for a reason. But what about those of us who are generally compliant? Is there any harm in stepping out for the occasional bit of recreation?

The Apostle Paul understood that he was free to partake in a wide range of activities, but he also understood that some were a waste of his time. “All things are lawful,” but not all things are helpful. “All things are lawful,” but not all things build up.” (1 Corinthians 10:23, ESV). This verse highlights the primary issue. Just because a behavior is not specifically restricted does not mean that it is worth pursuing... and you can see how that would relate to video games.

God has made it plain that he wants us to spread the Gospel — to preach, teach, baptize, make disciples and be salt and light (Matthew 28:19; 5:13-14). Do you know what all of those activities have in common? They require us to be in the presence of other people, and video games work directly against that. They isolate the people, and they suck up time. And those, my friend, are two of the devil’s favorite ploys! As you can see, it is easy to make a godly sounding argument against video games.

God does want us balanced (Philippians 4:5), however, and he wants us to have joy in every normal area (Philippians 4:4). This includes recreation, so yes, God does want us to enjoy our video games! The question will always be, what percent of our time do we spend on such diversions, especially when compared to the percent of time we spend in his service. Since I always ask myself, am I spending my time well? This gives me the right to ask a Christian gamer, how are you spending yours? Time is the great equalizer because everyone in the world has the same 24-hour day. Christians will have to account for their time to Jesus Christ himself (2 Corinthians 5:10), so a Christian gamer would be well advised to keep one eye on the game and the other on the clock.

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