What Is the Bible’s View?
Should You Defend Yourself?
IN MANY parts of the earth crime and violence are on the increase. Especially in the larger cities, people do not feel secure even in their own homes. What if you were threatened with violence? Should you ‘turn the other cheek’?
Jesus Christ did speak about ‘turning the other cheek.’ But we need to consider whether he was actually talking about serious threats to a person’s life. He said: “Do not resist him that is wicked; but whoever slaps you on your right cheek, turn the other also to him.” (Matt. 5:39) Now, a slap is an insult, often designed to provoke a fight. By not retaliating when subjected to insulting speech or action, the Christian may prevent trouble. “An answer, when mild,” says the Bible, “turns away rage.”—Prov. 15:1.
The situation, however, is very different when one is threatened with serious bodily harm. In his Law to Israel, Jehovah God revealed that the individual had the right of self-defense. For example, regarding a thief who broke into a house at night, the Law stated: “If a thief should be found in the act of breaking in and he does get struck and die, there is no bloodguilt for him.” (Ex. 22:2) At night it would be very hard to determine the intentions of the intruder. To protect himself from possible harm, the homeowner had the right to inflict hard blows. And if these blows proved fatal, he was considered to be free from bloodguilt.
Actually, it is inherent in man to prevent injury to his body. If an object is hurled at him, he instinctively tries to get out of the way or, if that is impossible, to shield the head from injury. Similarly, if a beloved relative—wife or child—comes under attack, a man will instinctively do what he can to help, even if doing so could cost him his life. Such action is also in harmony with what Jesus Christ himself did in sacrificing his life for the congregation.—Eph. 5:25.
So if you or one of your loved ones were confronted by a man or a woman carrying a weapon, what could you do? To the extent that time and human ability allow, you must assess matters, judging whether the individual merely wants money and other valuables or is bent on inflicting serious bodily injury. It would certainly be foolhardy to sacrifice one’s life in an effort to protect perishable material possessions. Giving up money or other valuables without putting up resistance may well remove any threat to life. Then, too, the Mosaic law considered as bloodguilty the person taking the life of a thief in the daytime. (Ex. 22:3) Why? Evidently because, in the daytime, the thief could be identified to the Law. Since the Mosaic law sets forth God’s view, we can appreciate that a Christian could not claim self-defense if, in reality, only property defense against an identifiable criminal was involved.
On the other hand, the armed person may definitely want to kill. What then?
When flight is possible, that is to be preferred. The Bible relates a number of instances involving Jesus’ doing just that. There was the time when certain Jews ‘picked up stones to hurl at him; but Jesus hid and went out of the temple.’ (John 8:59) Regarding another occasion, we read: “They tried again to seize him; but he got out of their reach.”—John 10:39.
If flight is impossible, the individual may be able to reason with the assailant. But, at other times, trying to reason with a person determined to inflict injury may lead to loss of valuable time. The situation may be such that the only thing a person can do is to use whatever is at hand to protect himself or others. As a result, the attacker may receive a fatal blow. From the Scriptural standpoint, the one acting in self-defense would not thereby incur bloodguilt.
In view of increasing crime and violence, some Christians may wonder whether they should not arm themselves in preparation for a possible attack. Jesus’ apostles were known to have had at least two swords. (Luke 22:38) This was not something unusual, for Jews at that time were under the Mosaic law that allowed for armed conflict. Also, swords were of value in warding off wild beasts. And they could serve a utilitarian purpose, much like that of an ax or a large knife.
However, as developments on Nisan 14, 33 C.E., show, Jesus Christ did not want his Jewish followers to use swords under circumstances that might provoke armed resistance against authorities of the land. When Peter, for example, used one of the swords against the mob that had come to arrest his Lord, Jesus commanded: “Return your sword to its place, for all those who take the sword will perish by the sword.” (Matt. 26:52) Peter’s action in this case was not a matter of self-defense, but, rather, resistance to authorities and even against God’s will. The intent of the mob was to arrest Jesus and to bring him to trial.
It is good to keep in mind that we simply cannot prepare ourselves for everything that might happen. The Christian, therefore, is wise when he does not become overanxious about his material needs and safety. Jesus Christ cautioned: “Stop being anxious about your souls as to what you will eat or what you will drink, or about your bodies as to what you will wear.” (Matt. 6:25) Jesus was not here saying that a person should not work for life’s necessities, but he was simply pointing out that this should not become a matter of undue concern. Similarly, it is right to take precautions about one’s personal safety, but it is an entirely different matter when one allows this to become a cause for great anxiety.
A Christian, therefore, should give serious consideration to the potential dangers that come with procuring a deadly weapon, such as a gun, for self-defense. Not infrequently availability of a gun, coupled with panic or overreaction, has led to needless deaths. There was the forty-year-old man in Arkansas who loaded his shotgun for the first time in four years. Because of robberies that had been taking place in the neighborhood, he was determined to protect his property. Early the next morning he heard what he thought to be a prowler stumbling outside his home. He took hold of his gun and fired at the front door. Then he turned on the light. There in the doorway lay his thirteen-year-old daughter—dead.
Accordingly, before buying a deadly weapon, one should certainly weigh both aspects—one potential danger against the other potential danger. He must decide which would be the greater risk.
From the foregoing it is evident that the Scriptures give a person the right to defend himself or others against bodily harm. However, they give no authorization for armed conflicts or the taking of human life in efforts during daytime to protect material possessions.