The following post is inspired by a recent comment, which touched upon faith and guns. Always interesting how koincidence works, as Eric Shelton of the Handgun Podcast recently was discussing this issue as well.
In fact, a large portion of this post is derived from notes written back in 2008 for a podcast that never happened. Eric Shelton, Kenn Blanchard, Mick McCart & myself had bounced around the idea of doing a show that focused on “faith and guns”.
So how do firearms & self-defense fit in within the faith of Christianity?
QUESTION I: Doesn’t the 10 Commandments say “not to kill”
Many will point out the passage in Exodus 20:13 “Thou shalt not kill.” Wouldn’t this alone preclude any role of firearms within the life of a Christian?
Of the nearly 50 uses of this word ratsach in the Bible, only five are translated “kill”, most are translated as slayer or murderer.
The word can be used for “kill”, but has a very strong connotation with “murder” and/or “manslaughter”. In the Book of Numbers, the passage describes the judgment and distinction between one who lies in wait to vs one who without deliberate malice or premeditation kills his fellow man.
For the latter, a provision is given, a city of refuge. A safe haven for which one guilty of manslaughter may remain and be safe from the “avenger of blood”. However, for one who murders, no such providence is given. It is interesting to note that there is in fact a role of the “avenger of blood”. A role which is incompatible with an interpretation of “though shalt not kill” in the broadest sense as opposed to thou shalt not murder. Furthermore, why would there be a provision of a city of refuge if any killing of a fellow man was wrong. That interpretation would condemn accidental manslaughter. If an individual dressed in black jumped in front of your car at night, you’d be condemned under such an interpretation. That is why most rabbinical scholars believe the law to be more aptly translated “thou shalt not murder”.
Furthermore, there are in fact instances in which God commanded the Israelites to kill. These included certain breaches of laws, and certain tribes. Some have struggled with understanding why God instructed the Israelites on rare occasion to wipe out their enemies, every man, woman, child, and beast. It’s a hard pill to swallow along with a belief in a loving Creator God. The understanding that I have, is that in those rare instances, it was because that particular tribe was infected with disease. And it was to ensure that the disease did not spread. Similar to having to put down a pet because of rabies or feline leukemia – it doesn’t mean you don’t love the pet. But you know they’re going to die anyways, and letting them live may harm others.
So what do we come away from this understanding?
MURDER is WRONG
Murder being an unjustified killing, by one lying in wait, with deliberation. Society was instructed to put these sort of people to death. Our society at present suffers, because we have to great a tolerance for such individuals. Even if you oppose the death penalty, all should agree that such individuals should never be released back into society to repeat their crimes.
QUESTION II: What does Scripture say about self-defense?
Exodus 22:2 “If the thief is found breaking in, and he is struck so that he dies, there shall be no guilt for his bloodshed.”
This would appear to be very straightforward. Call it God’s recognition of Castle Doctrine; now if only the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania would recognize such a fundamental truth. Defending your home is not viewed as a guilt upon the defender.
There are some other aspects to this rule depending on whether it’s day or night. Essentially, at night one could deem any such theft a threat. Where as during the day, there was some obligation as to whether the individual was indeed a threat before one could be justified in killing them.
Genesis 4:23-24 reads “Then Lamech said to his wives: “Adah and Zillah, hear my voice; Wives of Lamech, listen to my speech! For I have killed a man for wounding me, Even a young man for hurting me. If Cain shall be avenged sevenfold, Then Lamech seventy-sevenfold.” (NKJV)
Lamech was clearly not at his abode. He was out and about when he encountered a young man who wounded him. Lamech defended himself, which lead to the other man’s death. Scripture seems to make it clear that defending ones self, both in and out of the home, is not viewed as a condemnable event.
Nehemiah 4:17-18 “Those who built on the wall, and those who carried burdens, loaded themselves so that with one hand they worked at construction, and with the other held a weapon. Every one of the builders had his sword girded at his side as he built.”
QUESTION III: Can I use force to protect others?
Genesis 14:13 “And when Abram heard that his brother was taken captive, he armed his trained servants, born in his own house, three hundred and eighteen, and pursued them…”
Abraham, the gang buster. Okay, so don’t try this unless you happen to have a small private army. Abraham utilized force in order to retrieve his nephew.
1Samuel 17 “And David said unto Saul, Thy servant kept his father’s sheep, and there came a lion, and a bear, and took a lamb out of the flock….he LORD that delivered me out of the paw of the lion, and out of the paw of the bear, he will deliver me out of the hand of this Philistine. “
Why is this interesting?
Because in the Psalms David praises God for giving him the skills to do so. Psalm 144:1 reads “A Psalm of David. Blessed be the LORD my strength, which teacheth my hands to war, and my fingers to fight:”
In fact, the Bible even teaches about “reloads” in 1 Samuel 17:40 “[David] chose five smooth stones out of the brook, and put them in a shepherd’s bag”. He knew Goliath had four other brothers. He carried reloads.
QUESTION IV: But I’m a Christian. That’s all Old Testament…don’t we worship the God of the New Testament?
First off, there is a poor mis-conception in Christianity that God is somehow different. Hate to break it to you, but He is one and the same God. While certain passages may be difficult to comprehend. Realize that the Old Testament repeatedly documents mercy, forgiveness, kindness and love. Just read the Book of Jonah. In which a prophet who despises a mean neighboring nation is informed by God that he loves and cares for them. And wants to have mercy on them. And just read some of judgments in the New Testament be it from Revelation or the deaths of Anais and Saphira. God never got out of the judment business. Rather, he offered everyone a pardon if they chose to take it.
But let’s look at some of the passages in the New Testament…
The most challenging of the passages is found in Matthew chapter 5.
“You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy’. But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you”
This is the same chapter that says “Do not resist an evil person. If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also.”
Let’s address that first, because that is a far easier passage to deal with. First off, the offense here is not one of mortal danger. Rather, it is one of insult. Akin to the Renaissance period where one might remove their glove and slap another man across the face.
“evil” [pone-ros] – annoyances, of a bad nature, bad in an ethical sense, evil wicked
We are instructed to offer the other cheek. And frankly, anyone who carries concealed needs to take this passage to heart. Many a man has found himself in a brawl because he chose to protect his pride and ego. Men have both died and killed for personal insult. If you choose to carry a firearm, you need to set the ego aside.
Regarding pride and insult. To be slapped across the face is not a matter of self-defense; rather it is a matter of insult. And it is wrong to kill a man for merely insulting you.
QUESTION V: Aren’t Christians opposed to the use of force?
Luke 22:36 reads “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”
Or to modernize that passage…
“But now, he who has a wallet, let him take it, and likewise a backpack; and he who has no gun, let him sell his garment and buy a Glock.”
This was an admonition directly from the mouth of Jesus, to his disciples, to take a sword. The disciples responded:
Luke 22:38 “So they said, “Lord, look, here are two swords.” And He said to them, “It is enough.” Why would he have instructed the disciples to bear swords. If he did not understand the need for self-defense.
To answer the question of What Would Jesus Do? Was Christ totally opposed to the use of force? Would Jesus have advocated the use of force against criminals and predators? I’ll let you decide…
John 2:14-15 “And He found in the temple those who sold oxen and sheep and doves, and the money changers doing business. When He had made a whip of cords, He drove them all out of the temple, with the sheep and the oxen, and poured out the changers’ money and overturned the tables.”
At a minimum, this is pretty de facto evidence for the use of non-lethal force.
WARNINGS & CAUTIONS ABOUT ARMS
Matthew 26:52 “But Jesus said to him, “Put your sword in its place, for all who take the sword will perish by the sword. Or do you think that I cannot now pray to My Father, and He will provide Me with more than twelve legions of angels? But if I did, how would the Scriptures be fulfilled that describe what must happen now?”
First off, in this very passage, we receive the answer for their putting down of swords. This event was pre-destined to occur. It had to happen that way.
The second aspect “of perishing by the sword” may actually refer to that given moment being a warning to both sides not to take up arms or it would result in their deaths. Let us take a broader scope of the words as a statement that “violence begets violence”. One must take not that the situation at hand was one of Peter instigating violence. Peter initiated an attack, when his life had not been threatened. This is a very important insight. One should not go looking for trouble nor instigate violence, such will get you killed.
If you decide to walk into a gang ridden neighborhood and starting shoot drug dealers, you’re probably going to get yourself killed.
“don’t be rash, be merciful and understanding”
Proverbs 6:30 says “Men do not despise a thief, if he steal to satisfy his soul when he is hungry”, while it goes on to say that such a man is obligated to restore 7 fold. There are different types of crimes. There are those in which a man is merely a predator preying upon the weak and unsuspecting. Pure unadulterated evil. And there are those of desperation. Stealing of food to feed one’s starving family.
They are not the same soul. When I was young, some one broke into our basement and robbed us. It occurred a few weeks before Christmas. They stole nearly $200 in meat and food from our freezer. But they left my bicycle and numerous other items untouched.
Were I to catch such a criminal, I would not shoot them. I’d probably tell them to come back tomorrow, I have some work for them to do. If they come, I’ll give them some more food, and they can work off what they stole so that their conscience can be clean.
“an unarmed nation”
Judges 5:8 “They chose new gods; Then there was war in the gates; Not a shield or spear was seen among forty thousand in Israel.”
Interesting that one of the criticisms that God levied against Israel in the above passage was a failure of the people to be armed and ready to defend themselves.
America must be careful that we do not find ourselves in a situation where a firearm cannot be found amongst 40,000 people.
Final thoughts from a personal perspective. I’ve always been pro-gun, but for the longest time I did not own a firearm. I am pretty affirmed in my faith, and I saw little reason to trade my life for anothers. Especially one who I believe might really need some salvation (ie: murderer). But when I became a husband and a father the perspective changed. Now it was not just my life, but the life of my loved ones that I had need to protect. It was time for me to own a gun.
Read more about that here…
An Interesting Aside…two of my favorite quotes come from Ghandi. One is about christianity and the other about guns:
“I like your Christ, I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ.” – Mahatma Ghandi
“Among the many misdeeds of the British rule in India, history will look upon the act of depriving a whole nation of arms, as the blackest.” – Mahatma Ghandi
Lastly, there is a passage in Scripture that talks about seeing wrong doing, and doing nothing about it being wrong. I can’t remember the verse reference. If anyone recalls it, please email to me. Thank you.
Here is an additional perspective on the matter. I discovered it after writing my post. But I believe the author came to similar conclusions as to myself.