Caveat up front – I’m not a Bible scholar, I’m not a religious scholar; I am just an average person offering MY take on what the Bible says about self defense.
First, let’s start with the Old Testament, I’ll explain why we start with the Old Testament later.
What does the Old Testament have to say about the use of violence and / or self defense.
First, GOD does not have a problem with the appropriate use of violence.
Exo 14:13 And Moses said to the people, Do not be afraid. Take your stand and see the salvation of Jehovah, which He will prepare for you today. For as you see the Egyptians today, you shall not continue to see them again forever.
Exo 14:14 Jehovah will fight for you, and you be silent.
2Ch 20:17 You won’t even have to fight. Just take your positions and watch the LORD rescue you from your enemy. Don’t be afraid. Just do as you’re told. And as you march out tomorrow, the LORD will be there with you.
In each case, GOD did violence on behalf of the Israelites, either directly or indirectly. GOD defended his chosen people (this isn’t a debate about Jews being the chosen people, so hold that argument for now).
God does not have a problem requiring violence to be done.
Num 31:1 The LORD said to Moses,
Num 31:2 “Before you die, make sure that the Midianites are punished for what they did to Israel.”
Num 31:7 The Israelites fought against the Midianites, just as the LORD had commanded Moses. They killed all the men,
It wasn’t just violence, but lethal force that GOD authorized, required and approved. Over and over again, we see that GOD initiated wars, helped the Israelites in wars, caused deaths in those who stood in opposition to his plan.
Some will say “well, that’s war” and not exactly self defense. I say that it shows God’s nature, but let’s keep looking in the Old Testament.
While not mentioned by name in the Book of Esther, God seems to have arranged for the effective defense of the Jews. Note that in the story, the King’s decree could not be rescinded once sealed with his ring. The Jews did not break the law to defend themselves, but were able to get another decree authorizing self – defense. That is a historical example of the use of lethal force in a self defense situation….authorized, approved and covered under the law of the land.
What else does GOD say about the use of lethal force in Self Defense.
Well, in Exodus GOD sets out his commandments and the consequences for breaking them
Exodus 21: 12-14 “Anyone who strikes a man and kills him shall surely be put to death. 13 However, if he does not do it intentionally, but God lets it happen, he is to flee to a place I will designate. 14 But if a man schemes and kills another man deliberately, take him away from my altar and put him to death.
Exodus 21: 16 “Anyone who kidnaps another and either sells him or still has him when he is caught must be put to death.
Exodus 22:2-3 2 “If a thief is caught breaking in and is struck so that he dies, the defender is not guilty of bloodshed; 3 but if it happens after sunrise, he is guilty of bloodshed. “A thief must certainly make restitution, but if he has nothing, he must be sold to pay for his theft.
Exodus 22:2 seems to be the basis for Texas law so there is a modern connection there
Sec. 9.42. DEADLY FORCE TO PROTECT PROPERTY. A person is justified in using deadly force against another to protect land or tangible, movable property: (1) if he would be justified in using force against the other under Section 9.41; and (2) when and to the degree he reasonably believes the deadly force is immediately necessary: (A) to prevent the other’s imminent commission of arson, burglary, robbery, aggravated robbery, theft during the nighttime, or criminal mischief during the nighttime;
Notice that the Scriptures mandate death for a killing. A common misunderstanding is that one of the 10 Commandments is “Thou shalt not kill”.
In reality, the most accurate translation of the Hebrew word râtsach is Murder.
to murder, slay, kill
- (Qal) to murder, slay
- as avenger
- slayer (intentional) (participle)
- (Niphal) to be slain
- to murder, assassinate
- murderer, assassin (participle) (substantive)
- (Pual) to be killed
Thus, it is easy to see that GOD does not violate his own commandments at all. And GOD differentiates between lawful killings and unlawful killings.
Also, notice that since at night time there is a higher degree of risk of attack versus simple robbery, GOD specifically authorizes the use of lethal force in self defense.
Now, why on earth (pun intended) did I spend so much time on the Old Testament when this is about the Christian response to and authority for self defense. That is easy…just remember a couple of simple concepts.
First, GOD is unchanging and unchanged. What he approves of in the Old Testament is still valid. Jesus did not replace the old covenant but came to fulfill it. I know of only one case of Jesus contradicting what was established by GOD in the Old Testament – that was clean and unclean foods.
In Matthew 5:17 Jesus said, “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets (the Old Testament); I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them.” What Jesus was saying was that He wasn’t coming to completely do away with the Law. He came to fulfill the righteous demands of the Law. Specifically, Jesus came as a sacrifice for all of mankind so that His followers (those who accept Him as the son of God – Christians) would not have to make animal sacrifices as demanded by the Law – Jesus would be the ultimate sacrifice.
Jesus fulfilled the law, He expanded on its meaning and how we should apply it but with the exception of food, he did not contradict anything. God is unchanging and unchanged.
Let’s look at some New Testament support for Self Defense.
John 18:10 -11 shows that Jesus did not need defending and at that particular time it was contrary to His plan.
10 Then Simon Peter, who had a sword, drew it and struck the high priest’s servant, cutting off his right ear. (The servant’s name was Malchus.)
11Jesus commanded Peter, “Put your sword away! Shall I not drink the cup the Father has given me?
Notice that Jesus stated Peter was to put away his sword, not sell it, not get rid of it, not throw it away, not ‘never use it again’. Also note that Peter was carrying (there is that word from the 2nd amendment) his sword with him….even when he was with Jesus. If Jesus was against self defense, wouldn’t he have told his followers not to go armed. Also at the same time, Jesus affirmed that He could call on Heavenly forces for defense….if He wanted
Matt 28: 53Do you think I cannot call on my Father, and he will at once put at my disposal more than twelve legions of angels?
Let’s keep on with Jesus for a little longer, remember the Great Commission?
Matthew 28 16Then the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain where Jesus had told them to go. 17When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted. 18Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in[a] the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”
No where in that commission was the apostles told to make themselves martyrs, is there?
Then we can turn to other areas of the New Testament for approval of self Defense. The Bible is GOD’s holy word, so what is authorized in it is valid.
In 1 Timothy 5:8 we have the following scripture:
8If anyone does not provide for his relatives, and especially for his immediate family, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.
Isn’t providing for safety, security and protection part of providing for relatives and immediate family? Isn’t keeping the family’s food, belongings and money safe from robbery providing for the family? Go back to the scripture in Exodus 22:2 If a thief is caught breaking in and is struck so that he dies, the defender is not guilty of bloodshed. Since GOD is unchanging, what was approved in the Old Testament is still valid in the New Testament. Therefore self defense of money and property, including use of lethal force is justified in the New Testament.
Some people point to Jesus sending out the Apostles (as in Matthew 10) as showing that He did not endorse self-defense
9Do not take along any gold or silver or copper in your belts; 10take no bag for the journey, or extra tunic, or sandals or a staff; for the worker is worth his keep.
What those people do not point to is later in that same chapter.
34“Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword
And in Luke 22
35Then Jesus asked them, “When I sent you without purse, bag or sandals, did you lack anything?”
“Nothing,” they answered.
36He 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. 37It is written: ‘And he was numbered with the transgressors’[b]; and I tell you that this must be fulfilled in me. Yes, what is written about me is reaching its fulfillment.”
He knew that he would not be present on Earth as He had been originally in Matthew 10 to protect the apostles….therefore they would need to protect themselves.
This has ran longer than I expected….sorry about that.But it was necessary to show that GOD differentiated between lawful and criminal killing (killing and murder), that GOD authorized lethal force to be used against criminals in cases (much like today’s criminal law), that GOD is unchanging and what was authorized in the Old Testament is still authorized in the Net Testament….and that Jesus did not have a problem with the use of lethal force. This point is especially valid when you consider that Jesus submitted to a sanctioned killing for our salvation.