As some know, I have a pretty colorful background before being called into the ministry. Besides currently serving as a pastor, I currently or previously have served as a soldier, police officer, security officer, small arms instructor, Emergency Medical Technician and Law Enforcement Chaplain among other things. The idea of self-defense can take on many forms and there are innumerable “rabbit trails” to follow. Even so, I believe it’s impossible to develop all the “what if?” scenarios. I’ve heard, read, discussed or seen several different takes on the idea of self-defense. Included in this topic, I believe, must be discussed not only self-defense, but also defense of others who cannot (not necessarily will not) defend themselves. My plan is to develop a series of articles, perhaps as the precursor to an eventual book on the topic.
With some recent discussion with friends, as well as current and recent news articles, I want to take a look at the concept. Again, it will be impossible to develop every scenario, so I do want to try to primarily focus on some principles of the idea. As there are extremes relating to the idea, I believe the Bible addresses this and, as with any practice, we need to rely on the clear reading of scripture, as well as the leading of the Holy Spirit to guide our thoughts, words and actions. Many claim there is an aspect of the government’s responsibility, but biblically speaking, that is (should be) focused on punishment for crime, not so much prevention and that is not nearly as relevant to the topic from a biblical perspective.
Unfortunately, there are some who take an extreme view of what Jesus said about turning the other cheek in Matthew 5:38-42.
Ye have heard that it hath been said, An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth: But I say unto you, That ye resist not evil: but whosoever shall smite thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also. And if any man will sue thee at the law, and take away thy coat, let him have thy cloke also. And whosoever shall compel thee to go a mile, go with him twain. Give to him that asketh thee, and from him that would borrow of thee turn not thou away. ~ Matthew 5:38-42
Often, this is coupled with what John the Baptist had to say in Luke 3:14
And the soldiers likewise demanded of him, saying, And what shall we do? And he said unto them, Do violence to no man, neither accuse any falsely; and be content with your wages. ~ Luke 3:14
The typical answer, using these and a few other passages are that we are NEVER to resist violence done to us or anyone else. Unfortunately, this view contradicts other clear passages of scripture that teach that it is not only okay, but sometimes necessary to defend yourself or others. We’ll look at some (probably most) of these passages.
The first consideration is that YOU are personally responsible for your own well-being to the extent that you are able. As we grow up from young children, through our youth and into adult years, we learn valuable lessons that should be remembered. The easiest way to avoid the necessity for self-defense is to not get into a situation where it may be necessary. Usually, this is simply making good, godly choices as to our actions and associations. If you, as a believer, are involved in anything clearly identified in scripture that you shouldn’t be involved in, that calls into question your godly testimony or troubles your conscience, STOP, turn around and get out of that situation.
For the purpose of discussion, I’m going to lump together defense of self and property. The principle of self-defense is absolutely found in both the Old and New Testaments. Let’s look at some scriptures. While there are many, I’ll list the more well-known ones.
If a thief be found breaking up, and be smitten that he die, there shall no blood be shed for him. ~ Exodus 22:2
This may be seen as defense of self or property. The principle of personal responsibility is also seen here on behalf of BOTH parties regarding self-defense, the offender AND the defender. Both are responsible for their actions. If the offender is attempting to force compliance or steal by use of force, their limb or life may be justly sacrificed. In essence, they forfeit up to and including their right to life because they intended harm on the person or property doing the defending.
Another primary passage that explains the biblical doctrine of self-defense is found in Nehemiah.
Therefore set I in the lower places behind the wall, and on the higher places, I even set the people after their families with their swords, their spears, and their bows. And I looked, and rose up, and said unto the nobles, and to the rulers, and to the rest of the people, Be not ye afraid of them: remember the Lord, which is great and terrible, and fight for your brethren, your sons, and your daughters, your wives, and your houses. ~ Nehemiah 4:13-14
For the sake of context and WHY this was necessary, read from the beginning of the chapter. Here we see that self-defense was not only for individuals, but for families and neighbors as well. There are other scriptures that bear this out that we will look at eventually as well.
Some will claim that Jesus changed the idea of self-defense with the institution of the New Covenant. They claim that self-defense was only an Old Testament idea. In fact, Jesus did address the idea directly with his disciples in the Gospel of Luke.
And he said unto them, When I sent you without purse, and scrip, and shoes, lacked ye any thing? And they said, Nothing. Then said he unto them, But now, he that hath a purse, let him take it, and likewise his scrip: and he that hath no sword, let him sell his garment, and buy one. For I say unto you, that this that is written must yet be accomplished in me, And he was reckoned among the transgressors: for the things concerning me have an end. And they said, Lord, behold, here are two swords. And he said unto them, It is enough. ~ Luke 22:35-38
Is this statement by Jesus a contradiction of what he said in Matthew’s Gospel?
Then said Jesus unto him, Put up again thy sword into his place: for all they that take the sword shall perish with the sword. ~ Matthew 26:52
The most common rendering of this passage is “Those who live by the sword will die by the sword.” Of course the probability of this is true. One who lives by violence will likely die a violent death, perhaps in the nature of Exodus 22:2, which we saw earlier. This does not in any way condemn self-defense.
Next time, we’ll take a look at the defense of others, especially those who CAN not defend themselves. Comments and questions for further discussion and clarification are always welcome.