The confusion surrounding Christ’s view of self-defense is almost unavoidable. Christ certainly does tell his followers to “turn the other cheek,” but at the same time, the same man told his disciples to buy swords (Luke 22:36). Is this a scriptural contradiction, coming from the same source? At first glance, it would appear to be; however, there are some biblical concepts that don’t always make it through the confusion caused by changing culture, languages, regimes, and histories over the course of the last 2,000 years. Needless to say, it does take some explaining to get to the heart of the matter.
The biblical text for Christ’s mandate to “turn the other cheek” comes from Matthew 5:39:
“But I say to you, do not resist the one who is evil. But if anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also.” (ESV)
It would appear that Jesus is telling his followers to always accept the role of the victim. But, let’s take a look at this passage in the context of the Sermon on the Mount:
“You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I say to you, Do not resist the one who is evil. But if anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. And if anyone would sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well. And if anyone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles. Give to the one who begs from you, and do not refuse the one who would borrow from you.” (Matthew 5:38-42 ESV)
This gives us an entirely different perspective. Nowhere does the passage mandate that people should be victimized at the expense of life and limb, and it also says nothing about defending others from an attacker.
Instead, this is referring to the concept that we should treat others better than ourselves. Someone who intends to do real physical harm would not merely slap a cheek once, then give an opportunity for the individual to turn the other cheek. Christ is referring to an altercation between two parties, and defying the long-held notion that a person should repay evil for evil. No, the better person always treats others with humility, mercy, respect, and dignity. If that means turning the other cheek when an altercation comes to blows, then so be it.
As a matter of fact, drawing upon this same example from Matthew 5, it would be unlawful for a person to brandish a weapon in the event that someone merely laid a nice smack on the cheek of a concealed carry permit holder. According to the law, the person with the gun would end up in jail, no matter who struck first. Only under threat of serious harm is it lawfully permissible to brandish a gun.
Simply, there are times to act in self-defense, and there are times to absorb the crushing blows of evil. The Bible makes it clear that sometimes inaction, even martyrdom (no, not the exploding vest kind of martyrdom), sends the most powerful message, and yet it also indicates that selfless courage in defense of others is sometimes necessary. Overall, the overarching biblical mandate is to “…to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God” (Micah 6:8).
So, how does this interact with law and the idea of self-defense? Is it biblically permissible to carry a gun, and even use it in order to defend life and limb?
In fact, I would argue that it is imperative for law-abiding responsible folks to carry a weapon if it is lawfully permissible and possible for the individual to do so. Why?
One reason is that the Christ says, “’And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.” (Mark 12:30-31)
While our human nature cannot accomplish either of these without the grace of God, in the second verse, Christ does make it clear that we are to love our neighbors as ourselves. So, imagine that you were in a situation where a criminal was about to threaten the lives of you or your family. You knew your neighbor was mere seconds away, and was armed with a Glock 19. Wouldn’t you want that neighbor to come to the defense of you and your family? Of course you would. This is not a question of humility. This is a question of defending human life from criminal action. While it may be a personal matter at the time, it is actually an ideological matter of upholding law and order.
Good, law-abiding people have a responsibility to care for others. In this fallen world, defense against life-threatening criminal action is one of the most necessary ways to do so. This, perhaps, the prime function of government: protecting the life, liberty, and property of its citizenry.
Often people will point out that God seems to violate one of his own commandments. According to the King James Version of 1611, Exodus 20:13 says, “Thou shalt not kill.” That’s quite odd, especially considering stories like David and Goliath, Ehud and Eglon, Elijah and the Baal prophets, etc. What do they have in common? God commands that his servant puts the bad guy six feet under.
But, what does Exodus 20:13 actually say? When translated accurately into common, modern English from the Hebrew, the passage says, “You shall not murder” (ESV). Again, taken in context, this certainly puts things into a different perspective. The Bible never says that all killing is wrong. No, all killing is not the same. Governments and individuals are sanctioned to take life under certain circumstances, which most often (almost always) includes the defense of human life. Murder is the unsanctioned and unlawful killing of a person, which the Bible states is punishable by death under the Mosaic Law. Unless the convicted murderer intends to self-dispatch, someone has to make the sword descend properly. Yes, this requires a person to kill another person.
The Bible is clear that not all killing is the same. Also, Christ makes it clear that not all conflict is the same. He wasn’t turning any cheeks when he drove the moneychangers from the temple (Matthew 21:12). When Christ summed up the law, telling his followers to love God and love their neighbors as themselves, he wasn’t telling people to simply allow and obey criminal elements within society.
In fact, in loving our neighbors, it is important to have a hand in maintaining law and order, preserving the lives and limbs of our fellow humanity. Standing idly by with misplaced sanctimonious piety while innocent lives are butchered is not following biblical mandate, it does not assist the magistrate in keeping law and order, and it isn’t even doing the criminal faction any favors. Allowing folks to get away with crime does not love them; it’s merely letting them descend to lower depths towards an unfortunate ultimate end. Perhaps, if criminal elements in society were held in check with the fear of an armed law-abiding citizenry, then crime may not be nearly as prevalent.
If your nose was bloodied because you didn’t like how some degenerate butted in line at the DMV, don’t worry; just give the guy a chance to have a whack at the other nostril. He’s going to be taken down by security anyways. But, if a monster is holding you and your daughter at knifepoint with indication that it intends to use the weapon, you have a responsibility to put it down so no one else gets killed. The Bible commands you do so.