The Bible and Self Defense
Jesus told his disciples in Luke 22:36 to do an interesting thing. He said “Whoever has no sword is to sell his coat and buy one.” This flies in the face of the pacifist image that many people have of the Lord Jesus. Some have tried to spiritualize away the obvious meaning of Jesus’ instruction. He was speaking of a literal sword. It is apparent that His disciples understood what he meant by verse 38, and Peter’s inept and inappropriate use of the weapon. The point being, Jesus told His disciples to “take a sword.” For what purpose if not for self-defense? (To slice their bread and spear their olives?) Jesus’ rebuke of Peter’s use of the sword that night was because of the nature of His mission – the Cross – and not a blanket condemnation of the use of a sword in defense. Jesus’ statement that “all who live by the sword, shall die by the sword” was not a forbidding of defending oneself, but a condemnation of those who live by violence.
The Old Testament reveals that God recognizes and supports the validity of defense, and even the necessity of taking human life, both by nations and individuals. Those who would piously quote the Bible when it says “Thou shalt not kill,” stating that all life is God-given and we have no right to take it with our own hands, fail to read the rest of the Bible. In the same book of the Bible God specifically ordered the execution of people for such crimes as blasphemy, sexual perversion, adultery, kidnapping, and murder. On the matter of self-defense, it is clearly stated in the Law that if a man finds a thief in his house at night, taking the life of that thief on the spot is an acceptable means of protecting one’s home and property (Ex. 22:2). John Locke equated an assault on personal property as equivalent to an assault on one’s life, as one depends on one’s property for life. John Calvin declared that Christ’s law of love requires defense of one’s helpless neighbor. Paul teaches that the civil magistrate properly bears the sword (Rom.13:1-7). Historically, the Church has always viewed defensive war as just, and within the boundaries of scriptural teaching. (This is not to say that there have not been pacifists such as the Anabaptists, but they are the exception.) Biblically, the just war, as with Jephthah and the Ammonites was essentially an appeal to heaven to decide between the adversaries (Judges 11:27).
The advocates of the non-violent pacifist approach that says we are never to defend ourselves in any aggressive or violent way quote such scriptures as “Resist not evil” or “Turn the other cheek” to support their position. This position seeks to persuade us that any form of forceful defense would be contrary to the teachings of Christianity and not keeping with the Lord’s example who allowed men to do violence to Him.
The greatest problem with this viewpoint is that neither Christianity nor the Bible teaches non-violence or pacifism. The Bible shows us in both the Old and New Testaments that our God of love is also capable of violence, retribution, and vengeance. Force is never condemned in the Scriptures – only the misuse of force. Love and force are not incompatible in the mind of God, neither are justice and force. In each situation they are only opposite sides of the same coin. Religious humanism has put all the emphasis on the side of love and pacifism, most of which has been drawn more from Mahatma Ghandi rather than the Lord Jesus Christ and a clear Biblical standard.
We must understand that when Christ gave the command to turn the other cheek and to not resist evil that He was speaking to a situation where men’s hearts had departed from the intent of the Law of God, and they were using the Law as a tool to satisfy their own personal revenge. The Lord was addressing the evil attitudes of hatred and hypocrisy, not the legal procedures of His day. We are never at anytime permitted in the Bible to take the law into our own hands, nor are we allowed to be vindictive or revengeful even in the most extreme situation. If the issue is suffering for our testimony of faith in Christ, it should always be triumphant and non-violent.
In a unfallen world there would obviously be no need for self-defense. But we live in a fallen world, where sinful man is by his very nature a predator. Social mores may prevent him from giving full vent to his predator instinct, but that wicked nature is only beneath the surface. When lawlessness is allowed to reign, with the breakdown of society, self-defense is required for survival. The reality is that the police cannot fully protect you and your family. As a result, we are confronted with the necessity of personal protection. We are charged under God to protect our family, our possessions (since all of our possessions represent stewardship under Christ’s Lordship) and our personal well being from any undue violence that would hinder the on-going work of the Kingdom of God.
Does this mean that God cannot protect His people in times of danger? Undoubtedly, God can protect us without means, as He did Daniel in the lion’s den. Or He can protect us with means, as He did David with his skillful use of the sling against a lion. In both instances, it was God protecting His servant. In the same way that God can heal directly, without means (supernaturally), or He can heal with means (doctors and medicine). God is still the source of healing in both cases. God is our source of protection whether He provides it for us directly and supernaturally or whether He would require us to use some natural means of protecting ourselves, such as a .44 magnum.
It is to be expected that most of us would go to any length necessary in order to protect our family from a rampant disease, unnecessary poverty, or the attack of a wild animal. Why would we not be as quick to protect ourselves and our family from an intruder whose intention was evil?
Please hear me, I am not saying that everyone should have a firearm resting on his nightstand. What I am saying is that the Bible does allow for self-defense. We are granted under God the right to take whatever natural means we deem necessary to provide protection for our lives, the lives of our family, and our property.