The Bible’s Viewpoint
Self-Defense—How Far Can a Christian Go?
“Why live in fear? Learn practical ways to defend yourself and to escape an attacker. Easy and effective defense techniques are demonstrated in detail. This instructional video could be the difference between being a statistic or a survivor.”—Advertisement for self-defense video.
NO ONE has to explain the selling power of such a video today. In the city of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, U.S.A., packs of youths chant “Beat, beat, beat” as they prowl the streets seeking victims to mug. “Fear of crime colors the character of the entire city” of Rio de Janeiro, reports Time magazine. In Hong Kong armed robberies and shootings are occurring in areas where violent crime has been almost unknown—until now.
Similar reports are heard worldwide. With what result? “Citizens weigh the risks of shooting back,” says Newsweek. Christians are not shielded from these “critical times hard to deal with,” but will shooting back really make “the difference between being a statistic or a survivor”?—2 Timothy 3:1.
Meet Violence With Violence?
‘If I carry a gun,’ some believe, ‘I’ll be safe. I’ll get him before he gets me. At least I’ll scare him off!’ However, it’s not that simple.
George Napper, Atlanta, Georgia, U.S.A., public-safety commissioner, says: “Owning a handgun means being prepared to live with the aftermath of killing another human being.” Is a Christian prepared to live with such a consequence, which may well include bloodguilt?—Compare Numbers 35:11, 12.
Also, God’s Word commands, ‘Beat your swords into plowshares’ and, “Seek peace and pursue it.” (Micah 4:3; 1 Peter 3:11) How can Christians seek protection in firearms and at the same time live in harmony with the Bible’s requirements? In any case, the attacker is likely to be quicker on the draw than the victim.
Jesus rejected armed resistance. True, he instructed his apostles to carry two swords to the garden of Gethsemane, the place where he would be arrested. But why did he do this? Having weapons, yet not using them, powerfully demonstrated that Jesus’ followers should not resort to carnal weapons. It is noteworthy that having a weapon available, Peter impetuously used it. Jesus strongly rebuked him for this rash act with the words: “All those who take the sword will perish by the sword.”—Matthew 26:36, 47-56; Luke 22:36-38, 49-51.
‘That is all well and good for owning firearms,’ someone may say. ‘But what about learning the martial arts for self-defense, such as judo, karate, and kendo?’ Ask yourself, is not the object of this instruction to fight or hurt others? And is not such training really equivalent to arming oneself lethally? (1 Timothy 3:3) Even practice sessions have resulted in serious injuries and fatalities.
Romans 12:17-19 offers wise advice in this regard: “Return evil for evil to no one. . . . If possible, as far as it depends upon you, be peaceable with all men. Do not avenge yourselves, beloved, but yield place to the wrath; for it is written: ‘Vengeance is mine; I will repay, says Jehovah.’” The Greek word Paul uses for “evil” (ka·kosʹ) could also mean “destructive, damaging.” Hence, Christians are to keep from all thought of vindictively damaging or harming another person.
Rather than impetuously expressing his own wrath, a Christian fully trusts in God, who says of his people: “He that is touching you is touching my eyeball.” In harmony with this, God promises to ‘annihilate the wicked’ in due time.—Zechariah 2:8; Psalm 145:20.
A Time to Fight?
‘I won’t give up my money without a fight!’ some daringly exclaim. Dick Mellard, manager of education at the National Crime Prevention Institute, cautions: “It’s human nature to resist, but human nature can get [you] killed in the wrong situation.” Many muggers are dangerously armed and are tense and nervous. Lost money can be regained, but what about a lost life? Is it worth the risk?
George Napper gives this advice: “Perhaps the best way to protect yourself is by risking your property rather than your life. Most robbers and burglars are there to steal, not to kill.” In situations where a person is simply accosted or when his money is demanded, a sound principle is: “A slave of the Lord does not need to fight.”—2 Timothy 2:24.*
This is not pacifism, a policy of nonresistance under any circumstance. At Exodus 22:2, 3, a situation is described in which a thief is fatally struck while entering someone’s home during the day. Such a defensive measure was considered tantamount to murder, since the thief could have been identified and brought to justice. But during the night, it would be difficult for the householder to see an intruder and ascertain his intentions. Therefore, the person killing an intruder in the dark was considered guiltless.
Thus, the Bible does not uphold impetuous attempts at self-defense. In not supporting pacifism, however, the Bible indicates that there is a time to defend oneself. Christians may ward off physically aggressive attacks against themselves, their families, or others in genuine need of defense.* But they would not initiate an attack, nor would they physically retaliate to save their possessions. They would not carry weapons in anticipation of such an attack; rather, they endeavor to “live peaceably.”—2 Corinthians 13:11.
While the context shows that Paul was here referring to verbal fights, the original language word rendered “fight” (maʹkhe·sthai) is generally associated with armed or hand-to-hand combat.
A woman threatened with rape should scream and use any means at her disposal to resist intercourse.—Deuteronomy 22:23-27.
[Picture on page 12]
Betrayal of Christ, by Albrecht Dürer, 1508