What the Bible Says About Self-Defense
Anti-gun statists have twisted the holy scriptures to say that Christians should be pacifists. Sadly, some Christians have themselves twisted the scriptures even further, denying a right of self-defense even to the point that men ought to do nothing to stop women and children in their care from being raped or murdered. We will see here that the Holy Bible teaches nothing remotely so ridiculous.
But first, a couple of caveats. While I maintain that the scriptures permit self-defense and defense of others, there is a general prohibition against killing, and there is no authorization for personal vengeance.
General Prohibition Against Killing
There is no question that God established a general prohibition against killing. In fact, the prohibition is not simply against murder, but even unintentional killings; “thou shalt not kill.” Certainly murder was forbidden (Deut. 19:11), but even unintentional killing with negligence carried the death penalty. So if you had an ox that you knew was prone to attack with his horns, and you failed to confine it, if that ox killed someone you would be put to death. (Ex. 21:29).
Unintentional killing without negligence was not punishable by death as long as the slayer stayed in one of the cities of refuge until the death of the high priest (Deut. 19; Num. 35).
Obviously, “thou shalt not kill” has some exceptions. The “avenger of blood” was commanded to kill the guilty one.
No Personal Vengeance
The issue here is not that vengeance is bad. To the contrary, it is such a righteous thing that you are not qualified to do it. The Old Testament is full of examples of the Lord’s telling his people to do vengeance, but it was only permitted at his specific command or in individual cases according to the rule of law (such as the “avenger of blood”). The general rule was “thou shalt not avenge.” (Lev. 19:18).
In the New Testament, Paul carries this forward to Christians today: “Dearly beloved, avenge not yourselves, but rather give place unto wrath: for it is written, Vengeance is mine; I will repay, saith the Lord.” (Rom. 12:19).
Duty to Defend Others
The Bible clearly teaches a duty to defend others. In Ps. 82:4 he commands his people to intervene on behalf of others: “Deliver the weak and needy; rid them out of the hand of the wicked.” Proverbs 24:11-12 is consistent with this: “If thou forbear to deliver them that are drawn unto death, and those that are ready to be slain;… shall not he render to every man according to his works?” So if you don’t aid those ready to be slain, God will hold you to account.
Consider Ezekiel 33:6: “But if the watchman see the sword come, and blow not the trumpet, and the people be not warned; if the sword come, and take any person from among them, he is taken away in his iniquity; but his blood will I require at the watchman’s hand.” Here the watchman would account for the harm done to those he failed to warn.
Who is the watchman of your household? You are.
Jesus Claimed a Right of Self-Defense
Before we discuss this, read the following passages: Matthew 26:51-56; Luke 22:49-53; John 18:10-11.
In the garden of Gethsemane, a multitude of armed men came to arrest Jesus. Jesus and his disciples were carrying two swords, at his direction. When the thugs took hold of Jesus, Peter drew his sword and cut off the ear of Malchus, one of the servants of the high priest. In the verses that follow, Jesus did not tell Peter to throw his sword away, but to put it back in its place; and he did not say that it was wrong to defend him, but that if they did the Father’s plan of salvation would be thwarted.
In Mt. 26:53 he claimed a right of self-defense: “Thinkest thou that I cannot now pray to my Father, and he shall presently give me more than twelve legions of angels?” In the following verse he explained why he didn’t act on his right: “But how then shall the scriptures be fulfilled, that thus it must be?”
So it’s not that Jesus had no right to defend himself; it’s just that the Father had a plan to save the lost by sacrificing the righteous Jesus, and Jesus willingly gave up his right.
Note also that right before they went to the place where Jesus was arrested, he told them to make sure they had swords. (Lk. 22:35-38).
After Peter cut off Malchus’ ear, Jesus tells him, “Put up again thy sword into his place: for all they that take the sword shall perish with the sword.” Some pacifists take this to mean that Jesus commanded us never take the sword, but this would contradict his commandment to get swords in the first place. I can’t say for sure that Jesus is not stating some sort of general principle like “violence begets violence,” or some such thing, but reading that into the text seems a stretch. Jesus himself, in this very passage, claims the right to call twelve legions of angels to wipe these people out.
In context, I think what Jesus is saying is this: We have two swords, and they have a multitude. Don’t be stupid; if you take the sword, you will die.”
A Specific Example of Self-Defense
Here is the classic example of the authorization of self-defense in the Old Testament — Ex. 22:2-3: “If a thief be found breaking up, and be smitten that he die, there shall no blood be shed for him. If the sun be risen upon him, there shall be blood shed for him; for he should make full restitution; if he have nothing, then he shall be sold for his theft.”
So if someone breaks into your house at night, and you killed him, you would not be guilty. In the dark there was no way to know whether he was armed, and you could strike him and kill him just in case he was there to commit rape, murder, or kidnapping.
But if the sun was up, you should be able to determine if he was there only to steal. If so, you couldn’t kill him. It was not permitted to use lethal force merely to defend property.
The Disarming of Israel
There was a time when the people in Israel got on a pacifist kick and put down their weapons, but it was not at the Lord’s command — it was when they rejected the Lord and put other gods before him.
Judges 5:8: “They chose new gods; then was war in the gates: was there a shield or spear seen among forty thousand in Israel?” The answer to this rhetorical question is “no,” for men had abdicated their leadership responsibilities and begged a woman, Deborah, to lead them into battle and save them from their defenseless condition.
The Disarming of America
Something similar is happening in America today. Many men of God have abdicated their responsibility of defending those in their charge. They’ve done this because they have created a false dichotomy between living in peace on the one hand, and defending life on the other. This contradiction exists nowhere in scripture. Christians are not to seek revenge, return evil with evil, or defend their pride with violence, but a basic respect for the life of man, who is created in the image of God, is the basis of a right to defend oneself and others from physical harm.
To hold otherwise requires a twisted reading of the word of God. “[They] do err, not knowing the scriptures, nor the power of God.” Mt. 22:29.