A photo of a worn-out Bible lying open on a wooden table, highlighting the pages describing conflicts and struggles, symbolizing the concept of strife found within the biblical scriptures.

What Is Strife In The Bible? A Comprehensive Look At Biblical Strife

Strife is a topic that is prevalent throughout the Bible. From the earliest books to the New Testament epistles, biblical authors grapple with the causes, consequences, and cures for strife. If you’re short on time, here’s a quick answer to your question: strife in the Bible refers to conflict, quarreling, contention, and hostility between individuals or groups.

It is generally portrayed as a destructive force that leads to division and suffering. But the Bible also points to ways that strife can be overcome through wisdom, patience, forgiveness, and the love of God.

In this approximately 3000 word article, we will take a deep dive into the biblical concept of strife. We will examine how strife is depicted and addressed in both the Old and New Testaments. We’ll consider what leads people into strife, the damage it causes, and the remedies put forward.

This comprehensive look at strife in the biblical narrative will provide insight into this enduring human problem and resources from Scripture to potentially overcome it.

The Presence of Strife in the Old Testament

Strife in Genesis

The book of Genesis contains several examples of strife, conflict, and quarreling. Perhaps most notably is the strife between Sarah and Hagar after Hagar conceives Ishmael (Genesis 16). There is also strife between Jacob and Esau, as well as between Joseph and his brothers (Genesis 37).

These family conflicts foreshadow future tensions and divisions amongst their descendants.

Moses and Korah’s Rebellion

Another clear case of strife emerges when Korah leads a rebellion against the authority of Moses and Aaron (Numbers 16). Korah disputed their leadership and claimed that “all the congregation are holy, every one of them” (Numbers 16:3).

Yet this rebellion brought judgment, as Korah and his followers were swallowed up by the earth. This incident serves as a sober warning against factions and disunity amongst God’s people.

Strife in the Time of the Judges

The book of Judges depicts a time of moral chaos when “everyone did what was right in his own eyes” (Judges 17:6). This led to intensified tribal, social and political divisions. For instance, civil war broke out between the tribes of Benjamin and the other tribes of Israel (Judges 20).

Such accounts demonstrate how quickly internal strife can escalate without godly leadership to promote national unity and obedience to Yahweh.

David’s Trials with Saul and Absalom

King David’s life was marked by painful strife, despite being called “a man after God’s own heart.” Early on, David faced conflict with King Saul who grew jealous and sought to kill him. Later, David’s own son Absalom led a conspiracy and civil war against his father’s kingdom (2 Samuel 15).

While David sought to live at peace with all people (Psalm 120:7), even the godly cannot avoid strife in a fallen world.

Solomon’s Plea for Wisdom

When Solomon inherited his father David’s throne, he asked the Lord for an “understanding mind to govern your people, that I may discern between good and evil” (1 Kings 3:9). Leading God’s people through difficult situations requires tremendous wisdom to prevent and resolve conflict.

This was true for Moses, David and Solomon – and remains vital for leaders down to our own day.

Strife Among God’s People in the New Testament

Jesus’ Warnings Against Strife and Teachings on Reconciliation

In His ministry, Jesus frequently warned against strife and division. He taught that “every kingdom divided against itself is laid waste, and a divided household falls” (Luke 11:17). Jesus knew that strife could destroy relationships and communities from within.

He prayed to the Father that His followers “may all be one…so that the world may believe” (John 17:21).

Jesus gave clear instructions on reconciliation between believers, saying that if your brother sins against you to “go and tell him his fault” privately first (Matt 18:15). If he refuses to listen, Jesus said to bring one or two others along as witnesses, and if still unrepentant, to “tell it to the church” (Matt 18:16-17).

The goal is restoration and unity among believers.

Conflict in the Early Church

Despite Jesus’ teachings, strife crept into the early church. In Acts 6, there was a dispute between Hellenistic Jews and Hebraic Jews over the distribution of food. The apostles’ solution was to appoint seven men to oversee the distribution, thereby quelling the conflict.

This demonstrates how proactive leadership can prevent divisions over practical matters.

The early church also faced theological divisions over requiring Gentile believers to follow the Mosaic law. This was settled at the Jerusalem Council in Acts 15, where it was determined that Gentiles only needed to abstain from idols, sexual immorality, strangled animals, and blood (Acts 15:20).

Other matters were left to individual conscience, prioritizing unity.

Advice from Paul and James on Quelling Strife

The apostles Paul and James addressed strife in their letters to early churches. Paul urged the Corinthian church to “agree with one another so that there may be no divisions among you” (1 Cor 1:10). He scolded them for their jealousy and quarreling over spiritual leaders, calling it worldly rather than spiritual behavior.

James advised believers to seek wisdom from God which is “pure, peaceable, gentle, open to reason” in order to quell conflicts (James 3:17). He chastised Christians for conflicts arising from jealousy and warned that “where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there will be disorder and every vile practice” (James 3:16).

The Causes of Strife According to Scripture

Greed and Ambition

The Bible warns that greed and unchecked ambition lead to strife. King Ahab’s coveting of Naboth’s vineyard led to murder and conflict (1 Kings 21). The disciples argued over who was the greatest among them, causing disunity (Luke 22:24).

James 4:1-2 says fights and quarrels arise from unchecked desires.

Lust for Power and Control

When leaders abuse their power and seek control, strife follows. The Pharisees clung to power and suppressed God’s people, causing much conflict in Jesus’ day (Luke 11:52). Even Jesus’ disciples vied for positions of power, hoping to sit at His right and left hand (Mark 10:35-45).

The abuse of power continues to cause strife today.

Stubbornness and Foolishness

Scripture warns that stubbornness and foolishness lead to strife and conflict. Proverbs says, “Fools find no pleasure in understanding but delight in airing their own opinions” (18:2), and “A fool’s lips walk into a fight” (18:6). Ecclesiastes 7:9 warns that stubbornness leads to anger and strife.

We must seek wisdom and be teachable to avoid foolish conflicts.

Circumstances of Injustice and Oppression

Situations of injustice, oppression, and hardship can breed strife and discontent. The Israelites in Egypt cried out from their oppression (Exodus 2:23). Economic struggles led to class conflicts in Corinth, sparking Paul’s teaching on unity (1 Cor 1:10-17).

Justice, reform, and reconciliation can help heal circumstances that lead to strife.

The Fruits of Strife

Broken Relationships and Alienation

Strife can lead to damaged relationships, isolation, and loneliness. When there is constant conflict and disagreement, trust erodes and people pull away from each other. Friendships fray, marriages suffer, and families divide. Strife creates an “us versus them” mentality that leads to alienation.

People end up feeling disconnected, misunderstood, and alone. According to a survey by the American Psychological Association in 2017, 36% of Americans reported feeling lonely sometimes or always.

Retaliation and Violence

Unresolved strife can escalate into retaliation, vengeance, and even violence. When conflicts spiral out of control, people resort to hurting others to get even. Domestic violence, gang wars, family feuds, and cycles of revenge killings often have their roots in strife.

The Bible warns that strife breeds “anger, quarrels, dissensions, factions, envy, murder” (Galatians 5:20-21). An extreme example is the Hatfield–McCoy feud in which two pioneer families along the West Virginia-Kentucky border battled each other for years in the late 1800s, resulting in 12 deaths.

Disunity and Weakness

Strife leads to disunity, fragmentation, and weakness. Jesus said, “Every kingdom divided against itself is laid waste, and a divided household falls” (Luke 11:17). This applies to churches, communities, organizations, and nations. Strife can cause factions, splits, and dissolution.

It distracts people from working together toward common goals and purposes. The early church in Corinth suffered from partisan quarrels and theological disputes. Paul rebuked them, saying, “I appeal to you, brothers, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree, and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same judgment” (1 Corinthians 1:10).

Stumbling of Others

Strife often causes weaker Christians to stumble in their faith. Paul warns that disputes about opinions and arguing over words can “ruin the hearers” (2 Timothy 2:14). Petty bickering over adiaphora (non-essentials) confuses new believers and outsiders. It damages the reputation of the church.

For this reason, Paul urges mature Christians to “accept the one who is weak in faith, but not to quarrel over opinions” (Romans 14:1). Love should prevail over personal preferences. According to a Barna survey in 2018, 87% of agnostics cited “hypocrisy of religious people” as a main reason they reject Christianity.

Overcoming Strife: Biblical Keys to Peace

Pursuing Righteousness and Wisdom

The Bible teaches that righteousness and wisdom are closely tied to peace (Isaiah 32:17). By pursuing godly righteousness through studying Scripture, obeying God’s commands, and living a Christ-centered life, we invite the peace of Christ into our hearts and relationships (Philippians 4:7-9).

Wisdom, gained from fearing the Lord and applying His truth, also leads to peaceful resolutions of strife (Proverbs 3:13-18). As we grow in righteousness and wisdom, we become peacemakers who sow seeds of peace and joy (James 3:18).

Exercising Patience and Slowness to Anger

When facing offense or disagreement, human instinct often drives us to react hastily in anger. However, Scripture urges believers to instead model the patience and slowness to anger that God exhibits toward us (1 Timothy 1:16).

By asking God to help control our tongues and patiently listening to others rather than returning insult for insult, we can work through strife in a peaceful, edifying way (James 1:19-21). Patience helps dissolve discord, whereas quick-tempered reactions often inflame strife.

Practicing Humility and Considering Others

Pride and selfishness tend to escalate conflicts, while humility and considering others’ interests ahead of our own lead to harmony and accord (Philippians 2:1-4). Humility involves acknowledging our own flaws and limitations, being open to correction and advice, and maintaining a teachable attitude.

By humbly considering where others are coming from rather than demanding our own way, we can find common ground and mutual understanding.

Seeking Reconciliation and Forgiveness

Reconciliation requires initiative and courage, but offers great peace and freedom from ongoing bitterness or resentment. We should prayerfully consider whether we have wronged or offended another, be quick to confess our faults to those affected, ask forgiveness from God and others, and seek reasonable avenues for making amends (Matthew 5:23-24; 18:15-17).

Even when wronged by others, Scripture urges us to lovingly confront issues, forgive those who repent, and let go of bitterness by God’s grace (Ephesians 4:31-32; Matthew 6:14-15).

Relying on the Peace of God

Human effort alone cannot conquer deeply rooted strife. We need God’s supernatural peace, which “transcends all understanding”, to guard our unsettled or anxious hearts when facing turmoil or dissension (Philippians 4:6-7).

Through ceaseless prayer, presenting all griefs to God, and focusing our thoughts on His truths rather than the strife (Isaiah 26:3; 2 Corinthians 10:3-5), the Lord grants us steadfast peace amidst life’s storms. By relying wholly on Him, we gain victory over external strife (John 16:33).


As we have seen through this comprehensive survey, strife cuts a wide swath through the biblical narrative. Its presence haunts human relations from Genesis through Revelation. Yet while the Bible acknowledges strife as an enduring reality of human experience, it does not condone it.

Scripture exposes the roots of strife and its poisonous fruits, while also lighting a path beyond it through the example of Jesus and the wise counsel of biblical authors. By taking their admonitions to heart and putting them into practice through the empowering grace of God, there is hope to overcome strife and live in the peace that God desires.

The key is recognizing that strife’s origins lie in the human heart, with its propensity toward pride, greed, lust for power, and lack of love for others. As Jesus said, what defiles someone comes from within (Mark 7:20-23).

Therefore, the lasting solution to strife must come through the transformation of the inner person – the mind, emotions, desires, and motivations. As hearts change, so will relationships. When the love and humility modeled by Christ takes root, strife withers. Therein lies the hope and the cure.

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