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Is Killing In Self-Defense Biblically Justified?

bible and gunsAs a CCW instructor I am frequently asked about the moral implications of using deadly force in self-defense. I conduct most of my classes for local church groups, so I may actually get more questions along those lines than a lot of other instructors.

My general guidelines tend to be that I would not suggest the taking of a life merely to defend property. I tell my students often that If I am certain that giving over my wallet or my car will end a situation I am perfectly content to relinquish the wallet (The contents will be horribly disappointing to the thief!) or the car (which would probably fall apart in anything resembling a high speed escape!)

The trouble is that these days criminals are a very violent lot, and there are no assurances that handing over any amount of property will end a matter, as an act of violence may even be the primary intent of a perpetrator. If my wife or kids are present, ending a situation quickly and decisively is the only option, and I advise my students to take this same tact.

As Christians, we are obligated to weigh all of our actions against the teachings of Scripture. Therefore, the questions that I have had to confront and confront again in almost every class is this: Is there any Biblical support for utilizing deadly force in the defense of innocent life? Does the Bible support the bearing of arms? When is deadly force an acceptable option for a Believer? These are very deep questions for Christians to confront.

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Clearly, we see that murder is not permissible, but we also see that not all killing is murder. For example, Exodus 22:2-3 tells us that “If the thief is found breaking in, and he is struck so that he dies, there shall be no guilt for his bloodshed.” It is important to note that this passage is qualified in the next verse, in that if the break-in occurs in the light of day deadly force is not automatically mandated. The point is that violence is not mandated simply to defend property; in the light of day it is possible to discern whether or not the intent runs deeper than mere theft, but in the dark it must be assumed that there is a deeper level of threat and deadly force is an acceptable response.

Skill at arms is also viewed in a positive light in biblical teachings.

“Blessed be the LORD my strength, which teacheth my hands to war and my fingers to fight” Psalm 144:1.

“He teaches my hands to make war, So that my arms can bend a bow of bronze” Psalm 18:34.

These passages seem to relate more toward military service than to an armed citizenry. Nehemiah, however, gives us a clear image of an armed citizenry, and even a bit of foreshadowing for concealed carry:

Nehemiah 4:17-23: “Those who were rebuilding the wall and those who carried burdens took their load with one hand doing the work and the other holding a weapon.  As for the builders, each wore his sword girded at his side as he built, while the trumpeter stood near me. … So we carried on the work with half of them holding spears from dawn until the stars appeared. …. So neither I, my brothers, my servants, nor the men of the guard who followed me, none of us removed our clothes, each took his weapon even to the water.”

Here we see a population carrying at all times. These are not soldiers, but ordinary people going about their normal lives and occupations, but prepared for self-defense at all times. Clearly dangerous times dictated these measures, but can we deny that the times we live in now are equally dangerous?

But what does the New Testament tell us about deadly force for self-defense? While this is not a dominant theme in New Testament teachings, we certainly have some clear evidence that Jesus was not opposed to his followers mounting an armed defense. We need only look at events leading up to Jesus’ arrest to see these hints:

And He said to them, “When I sent you without money bag, knapsack, and sandals, did you lack anything?” So they said, “Nothing.”  Then He said to them, “But now, he who has a money bag, let him take it, and likewise a knapsack; and he who has no sword, let him sell his garment and buy one. For I say to you that this which is written must still be accomplished in Me: ‘And He was numbered with the transgressors.’ For the things concerning Me have an end.” So they said, “Lord, look, here are two swords.” And He said to them, “It is enough.” Coming out, He went to the Mount of Olives, as He was accustomed, and His disciples also followed Him. (Luke 22:35-39)

Here we see that Jesus expected his disciples would be armed, even going to what amounted to a prayer meeting. He also anticipates a time when a weapon may be more important than a garment. There is much left to interpretation in these verses, but what is perfectly clear is that being armed for the purposes of self-defense is perfectly acceptable.

John 18:10-11 says:

Then Simon Peter, having a sword, drew it and struck the high priest’s servant, and cut off his right ear. The servant’s name was Malchus.  So Jesus said to Peter, “Put your sword into the sheath. Shall I not drink the cup which My Father has given Me?”

Here we see a disciple using deadly force in defense. While Jesus stops the violence, what he basically says is that it isn’t the time or place for it; the events that are unfolding have been pre-determined by God and must be allowed to happen. The take home message, however, is that the disciples were ready, willing, and able to defend themselves and their Lord, and it is impossible that these facts were not known and accepted by Jesus.

While being armed is acceptable for Christians, it is not required. To carry a weapon remains a very personal moral choice. Often, female students in particular will tell me that they don’t think they could take a life. My response to that is always that this probably makes them better people than those of us who can, but that if they can’t use the gun they should not carry the gun. There is no shame in that. If you do choose to carry, know that there is Biblical support for this choice, as well as a mandate to protect innocent life. Deadly force to save your children, or any innocent, is perfectly acceptable, which should make Momma Bears feel better about the choice.

Vengeance and vigilante actions are not ours to pursue. Only true life-threatening circumstances are supported biblically, but these are the only times you should be considering deadly force anyway. As in everything, pray for discernment and wisdom, but pray in advance because there is little time when a situation comes up.

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  1. Also see Matthew 24:43 – if a thief attempts to break into a person’s house, the resident presumably would be expected to prevent it from happening. It doesn’t say the resident would TRY to prevent it; it says (s)he WILL prevent it by using whatever force or means (s)he has available. In that day, that probably would have been a sword; today an adequate firearm. Or, for non-gunowners, pepper spray, or Wasp & Hornet spray.

  2. We have a biblical right to exact justice. We delagate that right to just government but it belongs to the people. Also what about the woman in the biblical story who ran the spear through the mixed race couple who were having sex. God blessed her for her action.

    • I think it is obvious that Christ would first seek a nonviolent solution. But when meeting violence, it is prudent to be ABLE to counter that violence effectively. Christ could see into the hearts of men. We cannot.

      When “the bible preaches” intolerance, I hold it as yet another case showing how abusive men have become in twisting “god’s” word to suit their own ends. The crusades and the inquisition are such examples.

      If one digs into the bible, it’s easy to see intolerance seemingly justified :

      If one reads each of the items at face value and asks himself, “would Christ have advocated such action?” How could the answer be yes?

      • Did Jesus first seek a non-violent solution when he drove the money changers from the temple? Jesus was not the pacifist that he has been made out to be. He fully recognized that there were times when violence was the most appropriate response. He would NOT have attempted to negotiate with an armed robber.

    • Just wanted to point out that it wasn’t a woman who ran the javelin through the pair, it was Phinehas, the grandson of Aaron the priest.

      Additionally, his actions were not racially motivated. It was spiritually motivated because the woman, Cozbi, was a Baal-worshipping woman as were her people, the Midianites. The Midianites were turning the hearts of the Israelites away from God and towards Baal.

      • ISurvivedChristianity

        And that still makes genocide right? I’ll thank people to keep their psychotic imaginary friends away from myself and other rational, intelligent human beings.

  3. I have taught CCW for 18 years and have used the following and it is along the same thoughts as the author of this article:

    Probably the most misinterpreted passage of the Bible when it comes to persons defending themselves (or countries waging war or capital punishment) is the commandment:

    “Thou shalt not kill.” — Exodus 20:13 KJV

    Unfortunately, what many so-called religious authorities fail to tell when arguing against self-defense by quoting this bit of scripture is that there are several words in the Hebrew language which express the verb “kill.”

    The Hebrew word used in this commandment ALWAYS means “murder” and ONLY in what would now be called a “pre-meditated” murder at that.

    Unfortunately, the word “kill” has changed since the time of King James when the first major translation of the Bible into English was carried out. The “kill” would more properly be translated as “murder” as far as modern English usage is concerned and, in fact, many modern translations of the Bible generally use “murder” in this passage. Check it out in a modern language translation of the Bible or–better yet–with someone who knows Hebrew.

    This Bible passage deals with murder, not self-defense and it is a grave mistake to interpret is as prohibiting self-defense. Thus the commandment is simply “Thou shalt not MURDER.”

    Then he said unto them,
    “But now, he that hath a purse, let him take it, and likewise his bag and he that hath no sword, let him sell his garment, and buy one.”
    —Luke 22:36, KJV

    And they said, Lord, Behold, here are two swords. And he said unto them,

    “It is enough.”
    —Luke 22:38, KJV

    NOTE: During this time that part of the world was under Roman Law. It was ILLEGAL for anyone not a Roman Citizen to be armed – WITH ANY TYPE WEAPON. The Disciples were not Roman Citizens. It is obvious that Jesus approved being armed for self defense – and having the weapon concealed.

    In fact, the Bible makes the assumption that men and women will defend themselves against someone intent on harming them. (It’s interesting that only in our “enlightened” times do intellectuals start questioning the idea that people have a perfect and natural right to defend themselves.)

    • Well said, Trooper!

    • You fail to understand fulfillment of prophecy. Luke 22:37 shows this was to fulfill Isaiah 53:12, that He would be counted as a law breaker. It had NOTHING to do with self defense, ONLY about fulfilling prophecy. IF this was not the case, then why did Jesus tell Peter after he cut off the high priest’s servant’s ear,
      “Put your sword back in its place,” Jesus said to him, “for all who draw the sword will die by the sword.” in Mt. 26:52?

  4. Absolutely. Going back to the original language of the ten commandments, the commandment is though shalt not murder … it does not say that one should never kill. There is also new testament of Greek scriptures indicating that a man who does not provide for his family is worse than an unbeliever … and how can we provide for our families without providing for their defense or even worse, if we deny them the opportunity to life by failing to defend them?

  5. Only one thought to all of this. There is a HUGE flaw in all of this logic. The bible says in the 10 commandments, the basic structure for the entire bible, the very depth of it’s laws and most important to follow according to the bible, “though shalt not kill”. It doesn’t put any statement of who or what thou shalt not kill, straight forward and blunt “though shalt not kill”. What about that line? Is it negated by the other scriptures?

    • Good Question, and I’m certainly glad you asked. I hope you are struggling with this issue, and I too note that it clearly, definately, and sucinctly states, ‘Thou shalt not kill’ (KJV).

      A couple of things that should help inform us on this matter are: 1) the word used in the original language (Hebrew), and translated into 1611 a.d. English as ‘kill’, means to commit murder, specifically pre-meditated murder. That – we are not to commit – period.

      2). Another aspect of Holy Scripture is that other Scripture informs all other Scripture. That’s why you will hear pastors, teachers, and biblical professors of every strip use the phrase, “We must use ‘Scripture to interpret Scripture.'” Other Scriptures will inform, educate, and advise us how that particular and specific biblical injunction is to be understood under varying circumstances.

      I hope this helps inform us as the Bible is truly a collection of great truths, and to asseminulate them into one unified body of truth can be daunting, but is worth the effort. It is one that is continuing to be worked on regularly by good men of every nation.


      Son of Liberty

  6. I do support the writer of this article and say YES to carrying and defense of others if needed.

  7. I’m a Christian and I believe that you have the right to protect yourself and your belongings with deadly force if needed. However, and I mean no offense, but I’m not going to justify any of my actions by quoting the Bible.

    While it is a wonderful guide, the Bible is a work of man, not a work of God. And no matter how much divine guidance the original authors may of had, there have been too many revisions and errors in translation for it to have even the appearance of inerrancy.

    I depend on what feels right to me, as I feel God guides us all. And I pray that I don’t allow other people’s rhetoric and my own ego to blind me from what is wrong and what is right.

  8. Thank you for a very insightful article on a very touchy subject. I believe your use and understanding of Scripture is fundamentally correct. It’s good to see Scriptures rightly quoted and put into their correct historical context. I also appreciate the comments that have been added to clarify the Hebraic difference between “kill” and “murder” as this is one of the first barriers to overcome. This is definitely a subject that needs to be carefully considered before you have to face a violent situation.

    I have recently been prayerfully considering this matter for myself as I am in that group of people that was of the belief that I could never kill someone to save myself. As you recommended, it is the smart thing not to carry a weapon if you feel that you would not be able to carry through and use that weapon if it were necessary. As I have considered the sword of Peter and the need for self-defense in a world overrun with lawless people, my thoughts on this issue are starting to change.

    Thanks again for taking on a tough subject.

  9. Pat, not actually knowing each other, I perceive you to be an honest, God-fearing man. The real question here is, should one try and survive to be God-fearing for another day? I firmly believe that in these degenerating times one should protect family and self, by whatever means. Please correct me if I’m wrong…..

    • Hey Hickabilly, I try hard on both those counts, but like all of us I am a work in progress! I am with you. man. We have to defend our own, and God is with us on that as best I can tell.

      Luke (11:21-22) “When a strong man armed keepeth his palace, his goods are in peace: But when a stronger than he shall come upon him, and overcome him, he taketh from him all his armour wherein he trusted, and divideth his spoils.”

      I Timothy(5:8) “But if any provide not for his own, and specially for those of his own house, he hath denied the faith, and is worse than an infidel”

      Keep the Faith, Brother

  10. It’s pretty clear that if one kills another person that a sin has been committed, whether secular government justifies this or not. Defense is within our creation; humans are not perfect. For that, there is a road to salvation; John 3:16 “… that everyone that believes in him may not perish.” To seek this out, a Christian must understand what Christ taught, which starts in Matthew. This Gospel is a through update to the Old Testament. The most perplexing verse is likely Matthew 5:39 where Christians are commanded to not resist evil. Can I? Probably not. One book on the subject is “The Kingdom of God is Within You” (Tolstoy) and it’s actually free for Kindle readers.

  11. ISurvivedChristianity

    Considering this…book….justifies genocide, rape and slavery, I wouldn’t trust its validity in any logical sense of the word. If someone intends to do me harm, I shall defend myself.

  12. Do you all realize that you’re debating whether or not it’s ok taking a human life based on what is written in a book that is essentially science fiction?

    • Joe: All due respect but It’s only science fiction to you not us. It should be apparent, we choose to believe in a God that created us, not a theory that is recognized as a theory.

  13. Exodus 22:1-3
    1If, while breaking in, the thief is discovered, and he is struck and dies, [it is as if] he has no blood. אאִם בַּמַּחְתֶּרֶת יִמָּצֵא הַגַּנָּב וְהֻכָּה וָמֵת אֵין לוֹ דָּמִים:
    2If the sun shone upon him, [it is as if] he has blood; he shall surely pay. If he has no [money], he shall be sold for his theft. באִם זָרְחָה הַשֶּׁמֶשׁ עָלָיו דָּמִים לוֹ שַׁלֵּם יְשַׁלֵּם אִם אֵין לוֹ וְנִמְכַּר בִּגְנֵבָתוֹ:
    3If the stolen article is found in his possession whether a bull, a donkey, or a lamb live ones he shall pay twofold.

    The writer of the article is wrong in interpreting the Exodus passage if you read all the relevant verses 1 and 2 and 3 it becomes clear that what it is saying is if the theif “lives to see the light of day” he will pay for what he stole. If the stolen items are on their person he/she will pay double their value to the owner. He will pay even is he has to be ‘sold into slavery’ to do it that is he has to ‘work it off’. If you eat at a restaurant and you don’t pay then you can expect to wash dishes until you pay your debt.

    The Hebrews used expressions just like we do today. The bible is NOT saying deadly force is not applicable during daytime or if it’s just about property (with a criminal you don’t ever know that weather it’s today or 2500 years ago).

    Often translations into English are clumsy the above translation is word for word from the Hebrew though I must remind you that the Greek Septuagint is aldo as accurate.

  14. Ps in all the verses the ‘has blood’ or ‘no blood’ is referring to the guilt of the thief not the defender. This is not modern America –the right of the homeowner is understood. The ‘guilt’ (ie blood) is referring to the criminal in all verses and you can see that if you read them all not just quote the first.

    PPS also about Christ and self defence remember what john the baptist (a righteous mana according to Jesus that had the honour of baptizing Jesus) said to the soldier in Luke 3:14

    14 Then some soldiers asked him, “And what should we do?”

    He replied, “Don’t extort money and don’t accuse people falsely—be content with your pay.”

    A soldiers job is lethal self defence of country.

  15. PPS. Forgot to add: exodus 22:1 mentions the dead theif has no guilt because his estate (his living family members etc) was not to be held liable. In certain cultures the estate WOULD be held liable if the criminal did not live in order to pay his debt.

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