Self Defense: Biblical Guidelines

Theodore Roosevelt: “No greater wrong can be done than to put a good man at the mercy of a bad, while telling him not to defend himself or his fellows; in no way can the success of evil be made surer or quicker.”

There’s a great deal of purchasing of guns for self defense going on right now, according to a number of stories on the national news. Over a year ago I went through the scriptures to see what the Bible had to say about self defense. Most of what I’ve heard in the past has tended to be an overemphasis on ‘turning the other cheek,’ and in many cases this leaves professed brothers and sisters in Christ unrebuked and uncorrected, who are engaging in deliberate provocation, falsehood, and verbal and physical intimidation and abuse. Moreover, it does not leave much guideline for a believer who is seeking to avoid becoming the victim of a civil crime. Certainly the Bible gives a lot of teaching on trusting God as one’s defender, but a closer examination shows that one of the ways of his defense is through civil authorities and reasonable precautions and self defense for which the believer himself is responsible.

Here is some of what I’ve found.

The believer is not to make decisions based on fear and intimidation from others.

  • There is no need for the righteous to flee like the wicked (Proverbs 28:1).
  • The man of God is not to be intimidated by the aggressive looks of the wicked (Ezekiel 2:6, 3:9).
  • The believer does not have a spirit of fear, to be cowed by the intimidation of others, but of power, love and a sound mind (II Timothy 1:7).

The believer can make a legitimate defense and protest of innocence before a civil court and civil authorities when faced with false accusations and unjust punishment.

  • Jeremiah protested his innocence often before the kings of Judah (Jeremiah 26:12-16).
  • Jesus protested his innocence before the Sanhedrin when unjustly struck (John 18:22-23).
  • Peter and John asserted their innocence before the Sanhedrin (Acts 4:8-13, 5:23-29).
  • Paul asserted his innocence before Felix, Festus, the Sanhedrin and Herod Agrippa II (Acts 22:23, 24:10-21, 26:1-23).

The believer is called to rebuke and correct wicked words and actions before the church and the world, and not to have any part in them (Matthew 18:15-17, Ephesians 4:15, 5:11, I Thessalonians 5:14, Hebrews 3:13). The limit would be that one’s own defense should not become falsehood and therefore sin in denial of facts.

The believer is not to allow personal hurt and injury to become a grudge, personal payback or a vendetta, but to allow for the justice of God and legitimate earthly authorities (Leviticus 19:17-18, Proverbs 24:29, 26:27, Romans 12:17-21, I Thessalonians 5:15, I Peter 3:9). This is actually the context of Jesus’s command to ‘turn the other cheek’ and to ‘love your enemies’ (Matthew 5:38-48). And this did not extend to putting oneself negligently in danger from one’s enemies. The actions encompassed in his commands are more mild insult, humiliation and exploitation rather than danger of being maimed or killed from the reckless, abusive and murderous.  For example, Jesus legitimately avoided physical harm and false arrest until his time had come (John 8:59). Moreover, prudence means avoidance of danger in Proverbs 22:3 and 27:12.

In the civil law of Israel, there were provisions so that the community and the individual Israelite to avoid becoming the victim of or participation in another person’s violations of the Ten Commandments. Many of the actions of King David can be understood in light of the commands of the civil law of Israel (for example, his refusal to kill Saul: Leviticus 19:17-18, the delayed execution of Joab: Exodus 21:14, I Kings 2:5-6, 28-34). This gives an example for believes of the righteous requirement of the Law which is fulfilled in their lives through the power of the Holy Spirit (Romans 8:1-4). The general principle is that there is a civil and personal responsibility not to participate in the sins of others and to avoid becoming the victim of the sins of others. For instance, it is easily arguable that respect for oneself and others as being made in the image of means protection of oneself and others from murder.

  • Israelites were to avoid any kind of false testimony and biased judgment in the legal system (Exodus 23:1-9).
  • A night burglar could be killed in self defense (Exodus 22:2).
  • The community was called to enforce capital punishment against those instigating idolatry (Deuteronomy 13:1-18).

There’s much more that can be found in the scriptures. Certainly the commands in the Sermon on the Mount need to be understood alongside what is taught and exemplified throughout the scriptures, and more discussion among brothers and sisters in Christ would be appropriate.


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