This question has been asked by thousands of people over the vast expanse of time; probably by millions of people. Should Christians kill in self-defense? By reprinting this article from the US Concealed Carry Association, I hope to give you an answer by someone who reads and studies the Word of God on a regular basis.
As a Christian man, I do believe in the right to defend yourself from a deadly or seriously harmful threat coming from another human being. This is why I carry a licensed concealed weapon and have been trained in its proper use. It is my true belief this article will provide the answers you are looking for if you are asking the question; Should Christians kill in self-defense?
Please read on…
Well-meaning people sometimes ask me how a Christian, especially a preacher, could carry a gun. In their minds, carrying a gun and being a Christian are mutually exclusive. How could a Christian kill somebody? How could a Christian be so paranoid? Shouldn’t he or she have faith in God? What they fail to realize is that it is my lack of faith in man–not in God–that causes me to carry. God is all knowing and wise, but some men are idiots. The Bible does say that God “sends rain on the just and the unjust” (Matthew 5:45)i, and this is why I am prepared and carry my umbrella. By umbrella, I mean my Glock 19 and my Smith and Wesson 642. While this article is not exhaustive, it is a good starting point and can give you some “ammunition” to answer arguments that might come your way.
“The Bible says, ‘Thou shalt not kill.’” It is true that the sixth commandment recorded in Exodus 20:13 states that we should not kill. However, a closer examination of this Scripture reveals its true meaning.
Before I get into the Bible, I would like to make a statement. I can’t back it up with hard data; it is simply the impression that I get from talking to different Christians. Here it goes: The majority of Christians who do not favor the use of firearms in self-defense have this view simply because of their unfamiliarity with, and subsequent fear of, guns. Perhaps they knew someone who was wounded or killed in an accident involving guns. They attribute the accident to the firearm itself and not to the person who, because of his or her failure to observe safety rules, caused the accident. What they do not know about guns, coupled with the commonly accepted ideal that Christians should be pacifists, causes them to draw the conclusion that self-defense with a firearm is inherently wrong. While they have the right not to carry a firearm, they cannot and should not cite the Bible as their reason for said abstinence. It just does not support such a position.
Now let us look at the Bible. The first statement that most people make is the most obvious: “The Bible says, ‘Thou shalt not kill.’”ii It is true that the sixth commandment recorded in Exodus 20:13 states that we should not kill. However, a closer examination of this Scripture reveals its true meaning. The Hebrew word used for “kill” is ratsach, which means “to murder, slay or kill.”iii It implies murder and not killing in self-defense. As a matter of fact, most translations render this verse, “Do not murder.” The Bible in Basic English goes so far as to state, “Do not put anyone to death without cause.”ivMurder is sin because it is motivated out of vengeance, and the Scripture says that vengeance belongs to the Lord alone (Deuteronomy 32:35).v
Even Merriam Webster recognizes a difference between the murder and killing, defining murder as, “the crime of unlawfullykilling a person, especially with malice aforethought”vi (italics added); and killing as, “to deprive of life.”vii Simply put, killing in self-defense is not murder. In a self-defense situation, one does not set out to necessarily kill the other party. He or she simply attempts to use equal and appropriate force to neutralize an attacker.viii Sometimes this results in the attacker’s death. In light of this information, one cannot equate self-defense with murder.
Another popular portion of Scripture quoted by advocates of pacifism is Matthew 5:38-39: “Ye have heard that it hath been said, an eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth.
Another popular portion of Scripture quoted by advocates of pacifism is Matthew 5:38-39: “Ye have heard that it hath been said, an eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth. 39But I say unto you, that ye resist not evil; but whosoever shall smite thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also.”ix People take this to mean that, as Christians, they should take whatever evil comes their way. They conclude that the answer to evil action is simply inaction. This passage does not teach pacifism though; it teaches against revenge. Several translations make this point more clear. The Good News Translation records Matthew 5:39 as, “But now I tell you, do not take revenge on someone who wrongs you. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, let him slap your left cheek too.”x In addition, the Contemporary English Version states, “But I tell you not to try to get even with a person who has done something to you. When someone slaps your right cheek, turn and let that person slap your other cheek.”xi
Furthermore, we should note that the context of this verse does not include life-threatening situations. There is a big difference between a small, hand-to-hand skirmish and someone pulling a gun or knife on you. The implication here is that you should turn the other cheek when someone wants to bully you. As a matter of fact, the New Life Bible records this verse as, “But I tell you, do not fight with the man who wants to fight.”xii Common sense would (hopefully) dictate that you couldn’t fly off the handle and shoot someone just because they bully you. When that bullying escalates to the threatening of life, however, then appropriate action must be taken to protect the sanctity of life—your life.
However, Jesus’ statement is consistent with the rest of the Bible. Do not strike out in anger or vengeance; let the Lord settle your (less than lethal) disputes.
Exodus 22:2-3 in the Amplified Bible reads, “If a thief is found breaking in and is struck so that he dies, there shall be no blood shed for him. 3But if the sun has risen [so he can be seen], blood must be shed for slaying him. The thief [if he lives] must make full restitution. If he has nothing, then he shall be sold for his theft.”xiiiThese are important verses that favor self-defense. Seemingly complex at first, they are really quite simple when studied more closely.
One must keep in mind that at the time that this was written, the level of artificial light we have today did not exist. Moonlight could not be relied upon to sufficiently light a home. If a thief broke into a home, and the master of the house was awakened, the homeowner could legally kill the thief without fear of retribution. The reason for this was simple: At night, the homeowner could not see the thief well enough to discern what (if any) weapons he may have had. He did not know the thief’s intentions. He was already at a disadvantage due to the low light and the fact that his home was invaded. Also, since it was night, he could not quickly gain assistance from others. His ability to apprehend the thief was greatly diminished, if not altogether removed.
Consequently, the law allowed him to “kill first and ask questions later.” However, in the daylight, the homeowner was able to see his attacker and his weapons. He was more likely to be able to see if he were up against a hardened murderer or a homeless man simply trying to steal food. The homeowner had the advantage because he could now call for help and could more easily detain the thief.
Moonlight could not be relied upon to sufficiently light a home. If a thief broke into a home, and the master of the house was awakened, the homeowner could legally kill the thief without fear of retribution.
According toJohn Wesley’s Explanatory Notes on the Whole Bible, “If a thief broke into a house in the night, and was killed in doing it, his blood was upon his own head. But if it were in the day-time that the thief was killed, he that killed him was accountable for it, unless it were in the necessary defense of his own life (italics added).”xiv The “daylight” stipulation here is clear: If you know someone is simply trying to steal, you can shoot him. However, the religious and legal worlds would probably question your ethics. On the other hand, if the thief attempts to cause grave bodily harm, then you would be justified in shooting. At that point, you would not be taking defensive and possibly fatal action against a simple, would-be thief, but someone who has displayed intent to severely harm or murder you.
Massad Ayoob comments on this in his book, In the Gravest Extreme: “It is questionable whether anyone has the moral right, although the legal right still exists in many places, to use deadly force solely in defense of property. A house-breaker should be shot only if he presents a deadly danger to the innocent people therein, not to prevent his making off with the family silver.”xv Two more biblical commentaries offer additional insight: “The owner of property had the right to protect his property with force, but only with reasonable force. It was assumed that if it was daylight, the property owner could defend himself short of lethal force (italics added).”xvi “A robber breaking into a house at midnight might, in self-defense, be slain with impunity; but if he was slain after sunrise, it would be considered murder, for it was not thought likely an assault would then be made upon the lives of the occupants (italics added).”xvii
Lastly, let us examine a popular portion of New Testament Scripture. Matthew 26:50-52 in the Amplified Bible records this event. “Jesus said to him, friend, for what are you here? Then they came up and laid hands on Jesus and arrested Him. 51And behold, one of those who were with Jesus reached out his hand and drew his sword, and striking the body servant of the high priest, cut off his ear. 52Then Jesus said to him, put your sword back into its place, for all who draw the sword will die by the sword.”xviii In this passage, Jesus and his disciples were approached by a mob whose intention was to arrest Jesus. The disciples thought that Jesus was going to establish an earthly kingdom, and did not realize that he would have to die in order for the New Testament to come into effect.
Therefore, at that moment in the garden of Gethsemane, Peter was wrong to strike out at the high priest’s servant. He did not swing his sword in defense of himself or of Jesus; but rather, he swung it out of anger. Perhaps he was filled with indignation when he realized that Judas, his own brother in the Lord, had betrayed them all. Jesus was not stating that those who carried and used swords would die because they used them. Indeed, if Jesus were opposed to the carrying of weapons, why would he allow his disciples—those who would model his life to the New Testament church—to carry them? Surely he would have prevented them. However, Jesus’ statement is consistent with the rest of the Bible. Do not strike out in anger or vengeance; let the Lord settle your (less than lethal) disputes.
Carrying a firearm is a tremendous responsibility that requires a safe mindset and level-headedness. If you are unable to insure that you can act responsibly while carrying a gun, then do not carry.
In conclusion, Christians can carry a gun and use it if it is necessary to ward off life-threatening attacks. Obviously, such use should only be in response to an event that causes one to be afraid for his life. Christians, or anyone for that matter, should never seek to cause harm after the threat has been neutralized. Such would be revenge, and the Bible clearly states in Romans 12:19, “Dear friends, never avenge yourselves. Leave that to God….”xix Carrying of a firearm is a tremendous responsibility that requires a safe mindset and level-headedness. If you are unable to insure that you can act responsibly while carrying a gun, then do not carry. However, if you are certain that you can safely and conscientiously carry a gun, then do so and pray that you never have to use it.
iThe Holy Bible, New King James Version. Copyright 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. http://www.studylight.org (accessed 21 July 2006).
iiThe King James (Authorized) Bible. Public Domain.http://www.studylight.org (accessed 18 July 2006).
iiiBrown, Driver, Briggs and Gesenius. “Hebrew Lexicon entry for Ratsach”. “The Old Testament Hebrew Lexicon”.http://www.studylight.org/lex/heb/view.cgi?number=7523(accessed 19 July 2006).
ivThe Bible in Basic English. Copyright 1956 by Cambridge [Eng.]: University Press in association with Evans Brothers.http://www.studylight.org (accessed 17 July 2006).
vThe King James (Authorized) Bible. Public Domain.http://www.studylight.org (accessed 18 July 2006).
vi“Murder.” Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary. 2006.http://www.m-w.com (accessed 18 July 2006).
vii“Kill.” Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary. 2006. http://www.m-w.com (accessed 18 July 2006).
viiiAyoob, Massad. In the Gravest Extreme. Copyright 1980 by Massad F. and Dorothy A. Ayoob. p. 9.
ixThe King James (Authorized) Bible. Public Domain.http://www.studylight.org (accessed 18 July 2006).
xGood News Translation. Second Edition Copyright 1992 by American Bible Society. http://www.americanbible.org (accessed 21 July 2006).
xiContemporary English Version. Copyright 1995 by American Bible Society. http://www.americanbible.org (accessed 21 July 2006).
xiiNew Life Bible. Copyright 1969 by Christian Literature International. http://www.newlifebible.org (accessed 20 July 2006).
xiiiAmplified Bible, Copyright 1954, 1958, 1962, 1964, 1965, 1987 by The Lockman Foundation. http://www.Lockman.org (accessed 19 July 2006).
xivWesley, John. “Commentary on Exodus 22.” John Wesley’s Explanatory Notes on the Whole Bible.http://www.studylight.org/com/wen/view.cgi?book=ex&chapter=022.1765 (accessed 19 July 2006).
xvAyoob, Massad. In the Gravest Extreme. Copyright 1980 by Massad F. and Dorothy A. Ayoob. p. 1.
xviGuzik, David. David Guzik’s Commentaries on the Bible. Copyright 2004 by David Guzik.http://www.enduringword.com/commentaries/0222.htm (accessed 20 July 2006).
xviiJamieson, Robert, D.D. “Commentary on Exodus 22”. Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible.http://www.studylight.org/com/jfb/view.cgi?book=ex&chapter=022. 1871 (accessed 18 July 2006).
xviiiAmplified Bible, Copyright 1954, 1958, 1962, 1964, 1965, 1987 by The Lockman Foundation. http://www.Lockman.org (accessed 19 July 2006).
xixNew Living Translation. Copyright 1996 by Tyndale Charitable Trust. http://www.studylight.org (accessed 19 July 2006).
[ Rev. David Beeson is the Assistant Pastor at a Pentecostal church in Shreveport, LA. His carry guns currently include a Smith and Wesson 642, a Glock 19 and a Para Ordnance TAC S. He enjoys reading, preaching, shooting and spending time with his family. You can reach him at: [email protected] ]
Should Christians kill in self-defense? After reading this article and studying what I know to be true, I believe that, as a Christian, I have the right, and responsibility, to carry a firearm for defense of myself, my family and those innocents around me. It is my duty and I don’t approach it lightly. Some serious thought and training have gone into the decision. I feel ready and justified in the event I am called to perform this duty.
If you feel the same way, then I strongly urge you to get the necessary proper training before you embark on this journey into a new lifestyle. There is a Comments section below for you to respond to this article in any way you feel appropriate. Please do so…