The Bible and Self Defense (pt. 2)

In Part 1, we looked at scriptural justification for self defense. Today we will look at some of the common scriptures that people use to say the Bible is against self defense.

The 3 most common phrases all come from the Sermon on the Mount

But I say to you, offer no resistance to one who is evil. When someone strikes you on (your) right cheek, turn the other one to him as well.
If anyone wants to go to law with you over your tunic, hand him your cloak as well.
Should anyone press you into service for one mile, 26 go with him for two miles.

Now some people will point to the Sermon on the Mount to show that Jesus was a pacifist but not so fast there Sparky as usual there is more to the story.

Let’s take the 3 verse one at at time….first up Turn the other cheek.

Notice how the scripture specifies the RIGHT cheek? Why? Because to be struck on the right cheek was to be insulted — a higher rank or caste insulting a lower rank or caste. Here is a great explanation:

A figurative interpretation relies on historical and other factors.[1] At the time of Jesus, striking someone deemed to be of a lower class with the back of the hand was used to assert authority and dominance.[2] If the persecuted person “turned the other cheek,” the discipliner was faced with a dilemma. The left hand was used for unclean purposes, so a back-hand strike on the opposite cheek would not be performed.[3] The other alternative would be a slap with the open hand as a challenge or to punch the person, but this was seen as a statement of equality. Thus, by turning the other cheek the persecuted was in effect demanding equality.

Echo of Lamentations 3:30 Let him offer his cheek to one who would strike him, and let him be filled with disgrace.

So, Jesus wasn’t saying meekly submit to violence…he was saying return insult with the demand to be treated as an equal. This is an echo from Lamentations 3:30

Let him offer his cheek to one who would strike him,  and let him be filled with disgrace.

Once again, we see that Jesus did not change what was in the Old Testament, but fulfilled it, expanded on it.

Notice also, how a backhand slap was known and understood to be an insult (not much has changed), and Jesus was counseling a moderate reply to an insult….not complete pacificism.

Next we move to:

If anyone wants to go to law with you over your tunic, hand him your cloak as well.

This another case of Jesus differentiating between the legal and the illegal. The key words are “wants to go to law with you”….that is if someone sues you for your tunic. This is differently not the case of giving into anyone and everyone who tries to rob you. That was settled in Exodus, remember?

This is about if you are sued, do what it takes to make it right. It is a method of using the moral and social codes of the day to seek justice.

By handing over one’s cloak in addition to one’s tunic, the debtor has essentially given the shirt off their back, a situation directly forbidden by Jewish Law as stated in Deuteronomy 24: 10-13:

When you make your neighbor a loan of any sort, you shall not enter his house to take his pledge. You shall remain outside, and the man to whom you make the loan shall bring the pledge out to you. If he is a poor man, you shall not sleep with his pledge. When the sun goes down you shall surely return the pledge to him, that he may sleep in his cloak and bless you; and it will be righteousness for you before the LORD your God.

By giving the lender the cloak as well the debtor was reduced to nakedness. Public nudity was viewed as bringing shame on the viewer, not the naked, as evidenced in Genesis 9: 20-27:

Noah was the first tiller of the soil. He planted a vineyard; and he drank of the wine, and became drunk, and lay uncovered in his tent. And Ham, the father of Canaan, saw the nakedness of his father, and told his two brothers outside. Then Shem and Japheth took a garment, laid it upon both their shoulders, and walked backward and covered the nakedness of their father; their faces were turned away, and they did not see their father’s nakedness.

This instance applies in the narrow circumstances of a lawsuit, not a mugger in the middle of a park.  Jesus again shows how there are responses for lawful actions and others for illegal actions. A person is not required by this scripture to cooperate and go beyond the demands of a criminal.

And last but not least

Should anyone press you into service for one mile, 26 go with him for two miles.

Let’s again turn to Wikipedia for explanation (I can’t necessarily say it any better, so why try?)

The succeeding verse from the Sermon on the Mount can similarly be seen as a method for making the oppressor break the law. The commonly invoked Roman law of Angaria allowed the Roman authorities to demand that inhabitants of occupied territories carry messages and equipment the distance of one mile post, but prohibited forcing an individual to go further than a single mile, at the risk of suffering disciplinary actions.[4] In this example, the nonviolent interpretation sees Jesus as placing criticism on an unjust and hated Roman law as well as clarifying the teaching to extend beyond Jewish law.[5] As a side effect this may also have afforded the early followers a longer time to missionary to the soldier and or cause the soldier not to seek followers of Jesus to carry his equipment in the future so as not to be bothered with their proselytizing.

In this case, it is an example of Jesus telling people to use the existing legal code to try to change the other person’s behavior. This is not a physical attack, or punishment; although it could have been used that way at time. Jesus is again trying to provide a way to comply with a LEGAL demand in such a manner as to accomplish HIS eventual goal. This is not a case of a criminal demanding the individual participate in crime. This is not a case of the criminal being given more than was demanded in a mugging.

This is similar to people using the Open Carry laws to make a point for the Right to Keep and Bear Arms. Over and over again we hear the stories about law enforcement personnel who don’t know the law…yet the pro-gun advocates obey even the illegal demands and requirements of the cops.

It seems these scriptures do not support the concepts and ideas that people should be passive victims to crime.

Please join the disccusion

8 Responses to this post.

  1. Posted by Bob S. on 14.07.09 at 08:16

    So direct challenge to MIKEB,

    When I answered P_Politics question with actual factual information–you called my use of the Bible pathetic.

    I’ve provided literally chapter and verse of why I deem self defense and lethal force in self defense to be acceptable.

    Do you still consider my reliance on scripture to be “pathetic”?
    Did I make any errors in reasoning, interpretation, judgment?

    What say you now MikeB?

  2. Posted by Linoge on 14.07.09 at 08:16

    It goes without saying, but I would strongly suggest against holding your breath as you wait for a topical, rational response from MikeB.

    That said, I think you did a fantastic job touching all of the high points concerning Christianity and self-defense… And how Jesus might have been the Tam of his era, at least when it comes to snark.

  3. Posted by Bob S. on 14.07.09 at 08:16


    I definitely wasn’t planning on holding my breathe.

    Thanks for the compliment. Never thought of Jesus as snarky, but I can see it.

  4. Posted by Linoge on 14.07.09 at 08:16

    Well, to be honest, I had never really noticed it until you spelled it out with the point-and-counter-point. Jesus was advocating that people should respond to grievances and slights with what basically amounted to militant, lawful, peaceful defiance. If that is not the embodiment of snark, I will be buggered if I know what is.

  5. Posted by Lawyer with a Gun on 14.07.09 at 08:16

    This is a great couple of posts. As for Jesus being “snarky,” His wordcraft is tremendous. Some of the most cutting examples of sarcasm can be found in the book of Job, as He answers Job’s objections.

    His language has the ability to cut through what we say and address what we think. Sometimes the only effective way to do that is to add a little pepper to the dish.

  6. Posted by The Bible and Self Defense (pt 1) - 3 Boxes of BS on 14.07.09 at 08:16

    […] valid when you consider that Jesus submitted to a sanctioned killing for our salvation. In Part 2, I’ll discuss some common misconceptions such as “turn the other […]

  7. Posted by Troy B on 14.07.09 at 08:16

    A good rational, Godly, explanation. Well done.


  8. […] put up two posts looking at the Scriptural basis for self defense (here and here) […]