The Biblical Basis for Self-Defense

 

“See, now I’m thinking: maybe it means you’re the evil man. And I’m the righteous man. And Mr. 9mm here … he’s the shepherd protecting my righteous *** in the valley of darkness. Or it could mean you’re the righteous man and I’m the shepherd and it’s the world that’s evil and selfish. And I’d like that. But that **** ain’t the truth. The truth is you’re the weak. And I’m the tyranny of evil men. But I’m tryin’, Ringo. I’m tryin’ REAL hard to be the shepherd.” 

Jules Winnfield 

Frank Soto does an excellent job of refuting Rob Schenck’s article claiming that pro-life evangelicals cannot be pro-gun. To me, however, being pro-gun is being pro-life, because my defensive firearm is just that, to defend the lives of myself those whom I hold dear. This attitude is something that I’ve acquired since I’ve been married and have children to defend. When I was a single man, I owned guns, but I did not think of them as a defensive tools. Back then, I believed in my heart that for “for me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.” I still believe that, but that equation changes when I have more than myself to live for.

I have friends who are strong Christians and pacifists who will not raise a fist in their own defense and will employ any means other than armed resistance to injustice. I respect their opinion and will not condemn them: There’s a lot of room inside the church of Christ, and as long as you know of Christ’s sacrifice and are down with salvation by grace and the Nicean Creed, I don’t care where you stand on AR-15s.

But.

Just as I am willing to respect other people’s views about pacifism, I ask them to respect mine about the defense of my family. David French does an excellent job of laying out what is and is not said in the Bible and elsewhere about taking up arms in defense of one’s life.

“The idea that one is required to surrender their lives — or the lives of their family, neighbors, or even strangers — in the face of armed attack is completely alien to scripture.  There are many examples of martyrs surrendering their lives in the face of evil, but such an act is highly contextual and in response to the individual call of God on a man (or woman’s) life.  I know of no precedent for the idea that we are called to surrender the lives of others (such as our spouse, children, or neighbors) in response to deadly attack.” 

Read the whole thing, it’s worth it.

I’d add two items as well. One is the oft-quoted Luke 22:36,

He said to them, “But now if you have a purse, take it, and also a bag; and if you don’t have a sword, sell your cloak and buy one. 

There’s a bunch of different views on this verse. The two most popular are a literal view (“See! Christ himself tells us to arm ourselves!”) and the figurative view (John Wesley, among others, thinks that Christ was talking metaphorically here).

Me? I think a lot of bad theology has sprung up over concentrating on one verse instead of the over-arching narrative of the Bible. I’m not too concerned about whether Christ approves of armed self-defence here as I am about what he says in this very same chapter to his disciples at the Last Supper. That’s the important, life-changing stuff that Christians need to worry about.

Seek ye first the Kingdom of God, and all that.

Ever notice that “Carrying a sword” isn’t the first or second greatest commandment? Take care of those two first, then worry about everything else.

If you’re still wondering, maybe look at the Augustinian idea of a “just war”. Christian/Western philosophy and morality begins with St. Augustine, and “City of God” should be read by everyone, IMO, not just believers. Augustine’s concept of an offensive action by a group of people against another group of people as being something that God condones and not condemns centers on a war that…

  • Must occur for a good and just purpose rather than for self-gain or as an exercise of power
  • Must be waged by a properly instituted authority such as the state
  • Peace must be a central motive even in the midst of violence

I believe this also applies to individuals, not just nation-states. As I see it, I am justified in taking violent action to defend my life if…

  • It occurs for a good and just purpose such as defending the innocent rather than for self-gain or as an exercise of power
  • I am a properly trained and prepared individual, not a criminal or someone recklessly attacking out of mindless rage
  • Third, peace must be a central motive even in the midst of violence. The purpose must be to stop the threat, not punish perceived slights or dominate another person

I believe that armed self-defense is an extension of the Christian’s mandate to protect the innocent, to “watch over widows and orphans in their distress.” No one doubts that a policeman who carries a gun and watches over society can do such things and still be a Christian: Why, therefore, is there any doubt that an armed individual like me can carry a gun and watch over a small portion of society (my family) and yet still have a deep, abiding faith in God?

Published in Culture, Guns, Religion & Philosophy
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  1. Bob W Member
    Bob W
    @WBob

    I’ve never thought it to be even necessary to look for a justification for self defense in religious doctrines. The right and expectation of self defense is as self evident as your need to eat food. It doesn’t need to be justified. I’m sure the authors of the Bible took it as a fact of life. That’s why you don’t find it directly addressed as such and have to resort to parsing and cross referencing texts to find it. Exactly how self defense should be carried out is a different question and is rightly open to discussion and debate.

    • #1
  2. cdor Member
    cdor
    @cdor

    All great points Kevin. And Bob, I agree wholeheartedly. To live in nature, as God created it, is to need self defense. It is only natural to attempt to live as long as possible. Humans have conscience, and that makes us God like, which is the only reason we are having this discussion. Consciously doing harm to another with no provocation is evil. Protecting oneself against evil is a blessing.

    • #2
  3. Kate Braestrup Member
    Kate Braestrup
    @GrannyDude

    I like this, Kevin!

    I wrote something about this in my book Anchor and Flares:

    “I had a couple of friends—both men—at seminary who were genuinely antiwar and day-to-day pacifists. One night, they found a bona fide burglar in their living room, and being the kind of Christians only seminarians can be, they sat him down on the futon couch and asked him earnestly whether, in addition to cash and the almost-new DVD player he’d tucked under his arm, there was anything else the burglar felt he needed? A nice meal, perhaps, or the shirt off their backs?

    Interested, I asked, “What did he say?” but, disappointingly, the burglar had just mumbled, “No, dude, whatever, I’m good,” and skedaddled.

    My friends had the guy outnumbered and he wasn’t armed, besides which they didn’t have kids in the house. They were only risking themselves.

    Might we imagine that, having benefited from Christian charity, the burglar renounced his wicked ways and sinned no more? If not, how would his next victims feel about my friends’ willingness to refrain from calling the police?

    Before we imitate Christ and turn the other cheek, shouldn’t we first make sure that ours is the only cheek that’s going to get slapped?”

    • #3
  4. Man With the Axe Inactive
    Man With the Axe
    @ManWiththeAxe

    Just imagine a world in which every good person is a pacifist.

    Actually, we don’t have to imagine. It’s playing out right now in ISIS-occupied Syria.

    • #4
  5. Bob W Member
    Bob W
    @WBob

    I just saw a news story that it’s now legal in Texas, as of New Year’s Day, to carry a gun openly, that is, unconcealed. As long as the gun is properly licensed.

    I was stunned. In my state, whose image is far less conservative and “Wild West” than Texas, open carry has been legal forever, and guns aren’t licensed or registered. You only need a license to carry a concealed gun. My impression is that this is the case in most states. It would never have occurred to me that Texas wasn’t in the club until now.

    • #5
  6. kylez Member
    kylez
    @kylez

    From an Iron Maiden song, The Age of Innocence, 2003 (an English band):

    A life of petty crime gets punished with a holiday
    The victims’ mind are scarred for life most everyday
    Assailants know just how much further they can go
    They know the laws are soft, conviction chances low

    ….You can’t protect yourselves even in your own home
    For fear of vigilante cries, the victims wipe their eyes
    So now the criminal they launch right in our face
    Judical system lets them do it, a disgrace

    • #6
  7. Quietpi Member
    Quietpi
    @Quietpi

    Interesting – three threads all addressing the issues of self defense in the past few hours – and today, in California, schools have become “gun-free zones,” thereby drastically increasing the probability – to near certainty, I fear – of mass shootings on school grounds.  Francis Schaeffer addressed the issue now before us brilliantly.  I’ll post his words in the next post, because I’m sure they will exceed the word limit for a reply.  Stand by:

    • #7
  8. Quietpi Member
    Quietpi
    @Quietpi

    The Bible is clear here: I am to love my neighbor as myself, in the manner needed, in a practical way, in the midst of the fallen world, at my particular point of history. This is why I am not a pacifist. Pacifism in this poor world in which we live – this lost world – means that we desert the people who need our greatest help. What if you come upon a big, burly man beating a tiny tot to death and plead with him to stop? Suppose he refuses? What does love mean now? Love means that I stop him in any way I can, including hitting him. To me this is not only necessary for humanitarian reasons: it is loyalty to Christ’s commands concerning Christian love in a fallen world. What about the little girl? If I desert her to the bully, I have deserted the true meaning of Christian love – responsibility to my neighbor.” – Francis Schaeffer

    • #8
  9. Melissa O'Sullivan Member
    Melissa O'Sullivan
    @melissaosullivan

    Great article, Kevin, and great comments, all!

    • #9
  10. Rodin Member
    Rodin
    @Rodin

    All that Christianity requires is that a personal defense be proportionate — scaled to the sincere belief in the risk faced by yourself and/or to others; something necessitated as opposed to indulged and enjoyed. The Castle doctrine has been adopted in many states because as the government has become less in touch with day to day Christianity; its desires to take on God-like powers to discern the hearts of men  and its tending toward identifying property rights as something apart from basic human rights have required curbing. If you want to uphold the dignity of man, make him (or her) secure in their property.

    • #10
  11. Songwriter Inactive
    Songwriter
    @user_19450

    Great post, Kevin.  And your concluding paragraph is as direct and plain an argument as can be made on the subject. The only rebuttal to it to conclude that no law enforcement officer could ever be a Christian, which is absurd on its face.

    • #11
  12. Ron Selander Member
    Ron Selander
    @RonSelander

    Like!

    • #12
  13. Man With the Axe Inactive
    Man With the Axe
    @ManWiththeAxe

    Christianity and morality aside, pacifism creates greater incentives for bad guys to commit their bad acts. One of the few constraints on a bully is the possibility that he will run into a bigger bully.

    • #13
  14. Frank Soto Contributor
    Frank Soto
    @FrankSoto

    Kate Braestrup: Before we imitate Christ and turn the other cheek, shouldn’t we first make sure that ours is the only cheek that’s going to get slapped?”

    I’m stealing this.

    • #14
  15. Instugator Thatcher
    Instugator
    @Instugator

    Which Nicene creed? The Nicene or the Constantinople version?

    • #15
  16. Misthiocracy Member
    Misthiocracy
    @Misthiocracy

    Apologies if this has already been mentioned: Christ advised his disciples to always carry swords for self defense but also commanded them to keep their swords sheathed when he was taken by the Romans.

    • #16
  17. Manny Member
    Manny
    @Manny

    Bob W:I’ve never thought it to be even necessary to look for a justification for self defense in religious doctrines. The right and expectation of self defense is as self evident as your need to eat food. It doesn’t need to be justified. I’m sure the authors of the Bible took it as a fact of life. That’s why you don’t find it directly addressed as such and have to resort to parsing and cross referencing texts to find it. Exactly how self defense should be carried out is a different question and is rightly open to discussion and debate.

    That’s a good point.  Otherwise if we take Christ’s “turn the other cheek” phrase, and given that He doesn’t defend himself in the least during His passion, one would have to conclude that he was a pacifist.  I’ve always concluded as such but looking it up I found this in the Catholic Encyclopedia.  They don’t quote any Biblical passages.  It may be so obvious that it didn’t need to be mentioned.  But I can also see the argument that He already addressed it in the “turn the other cheek” phrase and that like most other statements He makes, He really means exactly what He said.

    By the way, whether Christ meant it or not, I am not a pacifist.

    • #17
  18. Misthiocracy Member
    Misthiocracy
    @Misthiocracy

    Manny:

    That’s a good point. Otherwise if we take Christ’s “turn the other cheek” phrase, and given that He doesn’t defend himself in the least during His passion, one would have to conclude that he was a pacifist. I’ve always concluded as such but looking it up I found this in the Catholic Encyclopedia. They don’t quote any Biblical passages. It may be so obvious that it didn’t need to be mentioned. But I can also see the argument that He already addressed it in the “turn the other cheek” phrase and that like most other statements He makes, He really means exactly what He said.

    By the way, whether Christ meant it or not, I am not a pacifist.

    One could argue that we’re advised to turn the other cheek when someone has wronged us, not when someone is coming at us with a weapon. It’s about promoting forgiveness after the fact and refraining from seeking revenge, rather than about prohibiting self-defence, arguably.

    (Obviously, if offering your other cheek to your transgressor means inviting a second slap, that kinda contradicts this interpretation, I do have to concede.)

    • #18
  19. Misthiocracy Member
    Misthiocracy
    @Misthiocracy

    Man With the Axe: Christianity and morality aside, pacifism creates greater incentives for bad guys to commit their bad acts.

    You can’t really set Christianity (and/or other pacifist religious teachings) aside when discussing pacifism, because one of the main points of Christianity is that what happens on Earth is largely irrelevant, and that it doesn’t matter what bad guys do as long as the faithful remain righteous. Arguing that Christ’s teachings are counter-productive in the temporal sphere is rather missing the point.

    • #19
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