Is self-defense biblical? We live in a world where, unfortunately, some of our fellow men and women seek to do harm to innocents. Whether it’s in the name of wealth through thievery or just plain nefarious behavior against innocents, such things do happen. But would Jesus approve of owning a weapon for self-defense, and what does He say about it in the Bible? Let’s take a look at the biblical perspective on the issue.
When examining both the New Testament and the Old Testament alike (which you can read online at no cost), we first must understand that the weapons being discussed were what the military and citizens designated to be the most effective weapons at that time. In the cases we will be discussing, we’ll be examining the use of swords. Weapons that were utilized as the most proficient at the time, much like the firearms of today. It is Mark 13:7, in addition to verses like James 4:1, that first explain that warfare and physical conflict is an inevitable fact of living on the Earth — where free will and the very nature of man often leads to transgression.
Another important thing to consider is that as Christians we have certain responsibilities to protect others as well as our selves. 1 Corinthians 6:19 explains how our bodies are ‘temples’ of the Holy Ghost, which is the gift of God received along with salvation through grace (Romans 10:13):
“What? know ye not that your body is the temple of the Holy Ghost which is in you, which ye have of God, and ye are not your own?”
But Is Self-Defense Biblical?
Sometimes in order to protect others, particularly innocents and the weak, physical force must be utilized. If a thief enters your home with a weapon and intends to kill your entire family, the thief is most certainly opening themselves up to a righteous form of self-defense. It is in this view we begin to see how a gun can actually allow an individual to protect themselves and their family against a thief as opposed to being disarmed in this event.
Perhaps the most compelling example of this is when God actually called upon David to defend the innocents and weak inside Israel from the notorious Goliath. God enabled David to end the life of the destructive Goliath using physical force, killing Goliath and Philistines in a defensive move to defend Israel. But there’s more to the story.
Today death (self-defense or not) is so prevalent throughout both real life circumstances involving crimes and warfare as well as the media that it is not seen as much of a big deal. God sees death as a big deal, even in the case of David. While David did not go against God in his actions (at least with Goliath), partaking in much bloodshed was still seen as a serious act in the sight of God.
In fact, we read in 1 Chronicles 28:3 that God tells David not to build a house for God after David has shed so much blood:
“But God said unto me, Thou shalt not build an house for my name, because thou hast been a man of war, and hast shed blood.”
The key here is that ending lives is a very serious thing in God’s eyes. It’s also important to understand the real difference between murder and self-defense. The Bible states that protecting against a thief as he breaks in your home is far different than tracking him down the next day and finishing the job.
Self-Defense Verses Murder
Now in the Bible we actually find many instances in which weapons are used, but it’s important to distinguish on which occasions these weapons were used under the right circumstances. Using and carrying a weapon for self-defense is never openly condemned in the Bible, but instead there are times in which verses discuss defense in a positive light. But once again, it’s important to emphasize the defense portion of the subject. For example, we find this in the book of Exodus.
I always prefer and recommend reading the King James Version (KJV) of the Bible, however in the circumstance of this verse I think a new translation makes it more apparent as to what the verse is saying. We read in Exodus 22:2-3 below:
“If a thief is caught breaking in at night and is struck a fatal blow, the defender is not guilty of bloodshed; but if it happens after sunrise, the defender is guilty of bloodshed.”
So what does this mean? At first it may be hard to break down, particularly when reading the direct translation, but ultimately the experts I’ve spoken to agree that it is concerning self-defense in a home break-in scenario and how to address the situation. In the verse, the thief is breaking in at night and is killed by the property owner — the method of which being one that is not specified but simply ‘fatal’. In this circumstance, the property owner is simply defending the property, himself, and perhaps his family. The man is labeled as a ‘defender’, indicating that his act was in defense.
But what does it mean that if it happens after sunrise, during the daytime, he is guilty of bloodshed? This part of the verse addresses what would be known as revenge killing. Instead of addressing the thief through another means, such as what modern times would be calling the police for an investigation or something similar, the man goes out and kills the thief with a fatal blow. This is indicated as an act that warrants guilt of bloodshed. In other words, this is not acting within what appears to be the acceptable area of defense.