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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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