By Rob Keller
Published in Sixthday Sportsmen Magazine
Volume 1 No. 3 ~ Fall, 2013
Does the Bible support owning and carrying firearms to defend innocent life? In Part 2 of this series we will unpack this topic. Regardless of the reader’s position, the author encourages readers to prayerfully consider this topic and, through study, listen for The Lord’s direction.
“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). We know from Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, that immediately after breathing, water, food, and sleep, the second most basic human need is safety and security. Can one provide safety and security without having tools/weapons at least as effective as those of the attacker?
We also know that we are to rescue the weak and needy to deliver them out of the hands of the wicked (Psalm 82:4). We are to deliver those who are drawn towards death and hold back those stumbling to the slaughter (Proverbs 24:11). If a person sees a threat and doesn’t warn others and they die, the first person will be held responsible for innocent deaths (Ezekiel 33). If we fail to guard or protect innocent life, the Lord will hold us responsible (Deuteronomy 22:8, Exodus 21:29-31). There is a time to kill and a time to heal (Ecclesiastes 3:3).
Self-defense is about protecting innocent life by taking action to stop a violent attack. It is not about seeking vengeance, performing murder, or punishing criminals. The Bible speaks to premeditated murder, killing in hatred, negligence, and accidental deaths (Exodus 20:13, Leviticus 24:16-17, Exodus 21:12-15, Numbers 35:6-34, and Deuteronomy 19:1-13). Clearly these are all sinful acts and not aligned with Christian principles.
The Bible shows us that non-military people carried weapons. Nehemiah armed the workers to protect life (Nehemiah 4:8-23). In Esther, the King permitted the Jews to protect their lives (Esther 8:11-12 and Esther 9:1-5). The Disciples carried swords in Jesus presence (Matthew 26:51-52 and John 18:12). If Jesus was against Peter being armed, would Peter have carried a sword? Clearly Jesus didn’t need the protection of a sword and certainly had the ability to protect the Disciples.
BUT, did Jesus actually want His Disciples to be armed? In Luke 22:35-36, He directed them to go buy a sword. Towards the end of Jesus’ ministry when they were in the upper room during the Last Supper, Jesus was preparing them for a time when He would no longer be with them. He asked them “When I sent you without purse, bag or sandals, did you lack anything? They said “Nothing”. Then 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." Jesus knew His purpose and mission. He knew that He must die. However, the Disciples’ missions were different. They must live to tell the story and to fulfill God’s purpose for their life. If they were to die prematurely, they couldn’t finish their work. Jesus wanted the Disciples to be armed for defensive purposes.
How important was it to Jesus that they have a sword? In Jesus’ day, the cloak was one of the most significant belongings that a person had. It sustained life by providing warmth. It was so valuable that the cloak was often used as collateral. If it were used as collateral, the lender must return it to the borrower each night so they could stay warm; then the borrower would give it back to the lender each morning until the debt was paid. Yet Jesus didn’t say lend their cloak or use it as collateral, He told them to sell it so they could buy a sword. We also know that the cloak was such a personal and important possession that, out of respect for Jesus, people laid their cloaks on the ground for Jesus’ donkey to walk on. In directing them to sell their cloak to buy a sword, Jesus was placing a very strong emphasis on their obtaining a sword.
Often seen as a counter to the above arguments is when Jesus directs us to love one another (John 13:34), seek peace (1 Peter 3:11), and not murder and nor seek revenge (Romans 12:19). He also teaches us that “greater love had no man than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friend” (John 15:13). Should a believer ever take the life of another person in any situation? Is Jesus directing us to be passive, not stand up for ourselves, and not defend ourselves or our family? Personally, I don’t find all these Scriptures to be in conflict. How can I love innocent people and let them be severely harmed or killed at the hands of criminals?
In my quest, I went back to the beginning to see how the Lord views life. We know that God created us in His image (Genesis 1:26-27). Our bodies are His temple and God’s Spirit dwells in us (1 Corinthians 3:16). Before we were formed, God knew us and set us apart (Jeremiah 1:5). God deplores the shedding of human blood and states that whoever sheds man’s blood, by man shall their blood be shed; for in the imagine of God he made man (Genesis 9:5-6). The Lord has a plan for us, a plan to prosper not to be harmed (Jeremiah 29:11). Our bodies are God’s property and we are not permitted to treat or destroy them (1 Corinthians 6:19).
As I went through my studies through prayer and through discussions with other believers, it seems clear that the Lord values our blood and our lives. Does that mean we should take action to stop a criminal from taking an innocent life? Would the Lord want us to take no action and watch while our spouse, child, or parent is killed or raped? Would the Lord want us to take no action and let someone kill or maim us so that we cannot provide for our family that the Lord has given to us? For me, the Lord led me to the answer that He wants me to protect the lives He has entrusted to me. For you, He may lead you to a different answer.
I continue to struggle with protecting the lives of persons I don’t know. Should I step in to protect an elderly person who is being violently attacked in the Wal-Mart parking lot? Did He put me in that position on that day to be the defender? By not acting, would I aid the criminal and prevent the innocent person from fulfilling the purpose The Lord has for him or her? What if I were killed or severely harmed and now could not provide for the people the Lord has entrusted to my care?
As a person who desires to live in peace, I pray the day never comes where I must defend someone. I do not envy violent people (Proverbs 3:31-32, Proverbs 1:10-16). If I am forced to fight, I will not trust in my own skills or in my tool of choice, rather I will trust He will see me through it (Psalm 144:1, Psalm 18:34, Psalm 44:6-7, Nehemiah 4:14, 1 Samuel 17:47). If I die in the process of defending someone, I know the Lord will bless me. If the criminal dies in the process, I know that I will be forever changed as it is not natural or desirable for a sane person to take a human life.
I encourage each believer to seek the Lord’s direction in this area of life. Don’t take my interpretation as the final answer. Seek His wisdom and direction through further study and prayer.
Blessings on your journey!