Bible & Self Defense

Should Christians use weapons to defend themselves or the lives of innocent people?  Would Jesus encourage His followers to carry firearms?  These are questions that believers and non-believers frequently ask.

Doesn't the Bible specifically talk against using self-defense? 

  • The 10 Commandments state “Thou Shall Not Murder”.  (Exodus 20:13) NIV
  • “You have heard it said, 'An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth.  'But I tell you, Do not resist an evil person. If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also.” (Matthew 5:38-39) NIV
  • The LORD is my rock, my fortress and my deliverer; my God is my rock, in whom I take refuge. He is my shield and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold. (Psalm 18:2) NIV
  • Do not take revenge, my friends, but leave room for God's wrath, for it is written: "It is mine to avenge; I will repay," says the Lord. (Romans 12:19) NIV
  • Trust in the LORD with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; (Proverbs 3:5) NIV

Yet others say the Bible specifically talks in favor of self-defense

  • But if the watchman sees the sword coming and does not blow the trumpet to warn the people and the sword comes and takes the life of one of them, that man will be taken away because of his sin, but I will hold the watchman accountable for his blood.' (Ezekiel 33:6) NIV
  • “If a thief is caught breaking in and is struck so that he dies, the defender is not guilty of bloodshed; but if it happens after sunrise, he is guilty of bloodshed. (Exodus 22:2-3) NIV
  • He said to them, "But now if you have a purse, take it, and also a bag; and if you don't have a sword, sell your cloak and buy one. Luke 22:36

Don't these verses conflict with one another?  Do we have a clear direction of what the Lord expects of us?  Actually they don't conflict at all.  The Lord is against us taking revenge and doing planned acts to harm people.  Conversely, He gave us life and expects us to protect innocent life.  In lethal force issues, it is the difference between murder and justifiable homicide.  It is the difference between defending life and seeking revenge.  It is the difference between being in a defensive position and an offensive position.

To fully understand, we must understand how the Lord created each individual life and what He expects us to do with that life.

Our Bodies 

When God created the heavens and the earth, He did it with a spoken word.  He said “Let there be” and there was.  However, when it came to the sixth day and time to create man, He took a personal interest.  Rather than saying “Let there be”, He said “Let us make man in our own image, in our likeness, and let them rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air, over the livestock, over all the earth, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.”  So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.” (Genesis 1:26-27) NIV. 

Paul teaches us in:

  • “Don’t you know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you?  If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy him.  For God’s temple is holy, and you are that temple.”  1 Corinthians 3:16-17 ESV
  • He continues “Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, who you have received from God?  You are not your own.”  “You were bought at a priceTherefore honor God with your bodies”. 1 Corinthians 6:19-20 NIV
  • Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship. Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will. (Romans 12:1-2) NIV

From these verses, we know that God created us separate and special from all of the rest of His creation.  He knows us individually and set up apart, and He lives within us.  Through Jesus’ death on the cross, He paid for our sins.  Only Humans have this kind of relationship with the Creator.  He know us to the extent that Luke states “Indeed, the very hairs of your head are all numbered. Don't be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows.”  Luke 12:7 NIV.


God’s Purpose for Our Lives

God created us for a specific purpose, to be on this earth at a specific time, to fulfill a specific mission, to be part of a specific family, to do specific things.  In Jeremiah 1:5 we learn that, “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I set you apart; I appointed you as a prophet to the nations.  Then in Jeremiah 29:11, “ For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.  There are other verses in the Bible that lead us to know that God has a plan for us and His plan does not include allowing any individual to interrupt that plan.

In Genesis 9:5-6 we learn that life is precious to God, and life is in our blood.  “Whoever sheds human blood, by humans shall their blood be shed; for in the image of God has God made mankind.”  The willful and malice murder of a person that God created in His image is a sin against the Lord, and God will hold that person accountable for their actions.  It is a direct assault on God’s own image.



If we allow our bodies to be destroyed, we cannot honor God any longer; our lives are over.  Similarly if we allow our bodies to be crippled, maimed, or damaged in any way, we have allowed someone else to harm the temple that God has entrusted to us.  Again, we have an obligation to preserve our life and protect our bodies so that we can do what God put us on the earth to accomplish.  We cannot accomplish 

Innate in every human is the will to survive and fight.  God created us with natural reactions respond to threats.  When threatened, our bodies release adrenaline so that we have increased strength.  Our blood pressure increases and blood flow focuses on critical organs and muscles in the body that are most needed at those stressful and threatening times.

Why would God create us like this, we are to allow others to harm or destroy us?  The answer is simple, he wouldn’t.   


Murder verses Self Defense

Exodus 20:13 states “Thou shall not kill”.  A more literal translation is “Thou shall not murder”.  Murder, the premeditated killing of another, is wrong.  Killing in a fit of emotion is also wrong.  Accidentally taking another person’s life is also wrong and we must do everything we can to prevent such accident.

In Leviticus 24:17, we learn that whoever murders any man shall be put to death.   It is a capital crime, deserving of death.  In Deuteronomy 19:4, the Lord says that if you commit unintentional killing, an accident not motivated by anger or hatred, your life may be forfeited. 

However, we learn in Exodus 22:2-3 that “If a thief is found breaking in, and he is struck so that he dies, there shall be no guilt for his bloodshed.  If the sun has risen on him, there shall be guilt for his bloodshed”.  There are two points here:

  • Someone breaking into a person’s home in the darkness cannot be seen and their intentions are not known.  In this case, if the thief dies, the homeowner is not responsible.
  • If the thief in daylight, their intentions can become known.  If the thief simply wants to steal, death is not warranted.  However assault, kidnapping, rape, murder, etc. does justify using lethal force.

With this information, we see that the intentional taking of another life is wrong.  It is wrong in the Bible and it is wrong according to U.S. laws.  However, self-defense is not murder.  Self-defense occurs when someone else attacks us and we respond to that threat.  If we respond to that threat and the attacker dies, we are not held accountable – not by God and not by man.

Citizens’ rights to self-defense 

Nehemiah tells us in Nehemiah 4:16-21, “From that day on, half of my men did the work, while the other half were equipped with spears, shields, bows and armor.  The officers posted themselves behind all of the people of Judah who were building the wall.  Those who carried materials did their work with one hand and held a weapon in the other, and each of the builders wore his sword at his side as he worked.  But the man who sounded the trumpet stayed with me.  Then I said to the nobles, the officials, and the rest of the people, ‘The work is extensive and spread out, and we are widely separated from each other along the wall.  Wherever you hear the sound of the trumpet, join us there.  Our God will fight for us!’  So we continued the work with half the men holding spears, from the first light of dawn till the stars came out.”

From Nehemiah we learn that citizens, everyday workers carried swords to protect themselves and together they protected the city while they worked to build the city wall.  We also learn that they carried swords for short distance fighting, similar to a handgun today.  They also had bows and spears for long distance tactics much rifles and shotguns serve that purpose today.   As a quick side note, I wonder if Nehemiah limited those with bows to 7 or 10 arrows.

Luke writes that “When a strong man, fully armed, guards his own house, his possessions are safe. (Luke 11:21).  The Lord is painting a picture that we are responsible for protecting ourselves.  We cannot rely on others to protect us.  He has given us the knowledge, skills, and ability to protect everything He has given to us.  It also should be noted that even a strong man needs to be fully armed.

Jesus direction to buy a sword 

In Luke 22:35-39, Jesus instructed his Disciples to buy and carry a sword.  Jesus asked them, “When I sent you without purse, bag or sandals, did you lack anything?”  “Nothing”, they answered.  He said to them, “But now if you have a purse, take it, and also a bag; and if you don’t have a sword, sell your cloak and buy one.  It is written: ‘And he was numbered with the transgressors’; and I tell you that this must be fulfilled in me.  Yes what is written about me is reaching its fulfillment.”  The disciples said, “see, Lord, here are two swords.”  “That is enough!” he replied.

From Jesus direction, we know that Jesus knew his time on earth was coming to an end as he told directed them to buy swords right after they had communion.  Jesus knew that the time was coming where they would need to acquire weapons for self-protection.  We also note that Jesus told them that if they couldn’t afford to purchase a sword to sell their cloak to buy one.  In this he was saying that being able to protect themselves was more important than clothing.  However, the cloak signifies so much more.

  • In Exodus 22:26 and Deuteronomy 24:13, we know that if a neighbor takes a person’s cloak as a pledge, that it is to be returned by sunset because it is the only covering his neighbor has to stay warm and be protected from the elements while he sleeps.
  • In Matthew 21:7, citizens put their cloaks on the donkey for Jesus to sit on
  • In Matthew 21:8 and Mark 11:8, most of the crowd spread their cloaks on the road for the donkey to walk on, while other cut palm branches.

The cloak was a very personal and important possession that people owned.  Giving up their cloak was a big deal.  It was a sign of ultimate commitment; commitment that the debt would be repaid, commitment and honor to their Lord who was about to be crucified.  Yet Jesus said, it is more important that you are able to defend your lives than to have a cloak.

Our Responsibility and Duty to Provide for and Protect Others 

So far we know that the Lord created human life with an extra degree of care and focus than He did with His other creations.  We know that He knows us personally and lives with us.  We know that we are created for a purpose.  We know we are to protect ourselves and have weapons to aid in that protection.  Do we have a responsibility beyond our own lives and bodies?  These verses help us answer that question:

  • David teaches “Rescue the weak and needy; Deliver them out of the hands of the wicked”.   Psalm 82:4
  • Solomon shows us in that we have an obligation to “Rescue those being led away to death; hold back those staggering towards the slaughter”.  Proverbs 24:11
  • Paul tells us “Anyone who does not provide for their relatives, and especially for their own household, has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.”  1 Timothy 5:8
  • the Lord tells Ezekiel “But if the watchman sees the sword coming and does not blow the trumpet to warn the people and the sword comes and takes someone’s life, that person’s life will be taken because of their sin, but I will hold the watchman accountable for their blood.” Ezekiel 33:6 (NIV)

The Lord expects us to intervene and protect innocent people from the hands of wicked people.   We are to help those who want to harm themselves.  The Lord is clear on his expectations of us, as it comes to preserving life.  If we see danger coming to another person and deliberately fail to warn them of the danger, we are guilty of harm that comes to all of the victims.  However, we are not responsible if we earnestly attempt to warn and those warnings are ignored; then the person(s) failing to act are guilty of any harm that occurs.  

Through John, we learn “Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.”  While we are expected to protect the life the Lord has given to us, we are also to protect innocent life.  If we lose our life in protecting someone else, the Lord says there is no greater love.  This doesn’t mean that we should take unneeded risks to protect someone else.

Possession of weapons and skills to use them

As discussed above, there are multiple instances in the old and new testaments where the Bible authorizes and encourage the possession of weapons.  However, possession of weapons is not enough.  We have a responsibility to know how to use them effectively and safely.  In Psalms, David refers to the training of his hands to effectively use these weapons. 

  • Psalm 144:1 – Praise be to the Lord my Rock, who trains my hands for war, and my fingers for battle.
  • Psalm 18:34 – He trains my hands for battle; my arms can bend a bow of bronze.

We are also to obtain advice and knowledge from those we have it and to help each other learn and grow.  “As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another” (Proverbs 27:17).  We are not simply to rely on our own knowledge and strength.


Keep faith and trust in the Lord

As we study this and understand what the Lord’s expectations and directions are for us, we need to be clear that our faith and trust remains in the Lord and not in the tools.  Swords, guns, knives, and other weapons are simply tools.  They cannot guarantee protection, any more than a fire extinguisher can’t prevents a house fire or a seatbelt prevents an auto accident.  

In Nehemiah 4:14, even though the people were armed, their trust was in the Lord.  In Psalm 44:6-7, David says I will not trust in my bow, nor my sword to save me.  You have saved us from our enemies and have put shame to those who hated us”.  In 1 Samuel 17:47, “the Lord does not deliver by sword or by spear; for the battle is the Lords”.  We are to have faith and plus our trust in the Lord.  While not a Bible verse, this all comes down to “the Lord helps those who help themselves”.

Conclusion and Lifestyle 

In conclusion, we again find no conflict in God’s Word. 

  • We were created in God’s image and put here for a specific purpose.
  • We are supposed to protect our life and the lives of innocent people; we aren’t supposed to seek vengeance.
  • There is a difference between self-defense and murder.
  • We are to protect all of the things God has given to us including our lives and our families.
  • Even in battle, we are to rely on the Lord for His guidance and protection.

As Christians we have a responsibility to be the Lord’s hands and mouth in everything that we say and do.  Even in adversity, we are to let His light shine.  Life is full of choices and choices have consequences (good and bad).  As humans and sinners, we frequently fall down, make mistakes, get back up, ask for forgiveness, and hopefully move forward.  Hopefully we learn from our mistakes and don’t repeat them. 

Our investment of our time, talents, and treasures directs how we think and act.  It is reflected in every area of our life; thus it is reflected in how we act and respond in self-defense situations.  How we train our minds has a direct correlation to how we respond in times of adversity.  Do our thoughts control our actions or do our actions override our thoughts?  The following verses are important in life and also in self-defense situations:   

  • In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven. (Matthew 5:16)
  • For we are taking pains to do what is right, not only in the eyes of the Lord but also in the eyes of man. (2 Corinthians 8:21)
  • If anyone, then, knows the good they ought to do and doesn’t do it, it is sin for them. (James 4:17)  
  • For physical training is of some value, but godliness has value for all things, holding promise for both the present life and the life to come. (1 Timothy 4:8)
  • And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love Him, who have been called according to his purpose.”  (Romans 8:28) NIV

The people we hang out with, the bumper stickers on the back of our car, the words that we use, the sharpness of our tongue, etc. reflect how others view us.  Is that the image we want others to have of us?  Will our image glorify the Father?  Are we doing what is right?  Are we doing or not doing something we should be doing?  Is our character and ethics aligned with our purpose and faith?

In the world, each of us want to be respected and to some degree accepted for who we are.  Take a moment and consider who you are – how do you want the world to see you.  Do you want to be known as a Christian, a responsible person, a person of high character, a person of high ethics, a loyal family member, a hard worker, etc.  Next consider how the people will view you if they saw you in any of these situations:

  • Golfing on a Sunday morning
  • Drunk at a company outing
  • Flirting with a member of the opposite sex
  • Being pals with a drug user
  • Being in a romantic relationship with someone who steals from you
  • Driving a vehicle with a bumper sticker that says “hold on, I’m reloading”
  • Stating that if the bad guy is at the door, I will shoot and then drag them inside.
  • Gossiping to a friend about confidential information that another friend told you.
  • Cussing, lying, stealing, or cheating.

In life, like in self-defense situation, the choices we make reflect who we are.  Our choices have consequences.  We cannot be the Lord’s light when we don’t reflect who He is.  Further, we cannot show others who we are when our actions don’t appropriately reflect who we are.  We are fortunate that the Lord forgives us.  People and the Courts don’t tend to be as forgiving. 

Final comments, it is best to formulate your purpose (i.e. who you want to be), your thoughts (i.e. what is important to you), and your actions (i.e. how you want to respond) when things are calm.  By training the mind in this order, your purpose, thoughts, and actions will become intentional rather than emotional responses.  It is never good to attempt to make critical choices under severe pressure.  People who are serious about self-defense need to consider what they would do under a variety of circumstances.  I’d encourage believers to prayerfully consider these things and determine their purpose, their thoughts, and their actions.

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