The Bible and the Rights to Arms and Self Defense

In a previous post, I discussed the difference between “civil rights” and “human rights”. Civil rights are self-evident and come from nature and nature’s God while human rights are fleeting principals subject to the whims of corruptible men. Understanding rights in this manner is important so we don’t give up our rights due to convincing arguments or times of crisis and become subjects to man’s governing schemes.

This week I want to address the right of the individual of self-defense. It is not uncommon in Christianity for people to believe they do not possess this right. However, there is a big difference between not having a right and deciding not to exercise a right that one does possess. I contend that the right of self defense is Biblical and self-evident. Exercising the right of defense or the right to avenge is an ethical dilemma that one must decide on an individual basis. Consider:

Then the Lord spoke to Joshua, saying, 2 “Speak to the sons of Israel, saying, ‘ Designate  the cities of refuge, of which I spoke to you  through Moses, 3 that the manslayer who  kills any person unintentionally, without premeditation, may flee there, and they shall become your refuge from the avenger of blood. 4 ~’He shall flee to one of these cities, and shall stand at the entrance of the  gate of the city and state his case in the hearing of the elders of that city; and they shall  take him into the city to them and give him a place, so that he may dwell among them. 5 ~’Now  if the avenger of blood pursues him, then they shall not deliver the manslayer into his hand, because he struck his neighbor without premeditation and did not hate him beforehand. Josh 20:1-5 (NASB)

Consider the underlined word “if” in the above passage. The avenger of blood had a right to take the life of the person who accidentally killed his relative, but he did not have to exercise that right! It was his choice! Further, if there was a right to avenge blood in the Old Testament, and Jesus Christ is the same today, yesterday, and forever, then that right continues to this day. However, in our society, this right is not recognized. Justice is meted out through our court systems and there are prisons instead of cities of refuge.

In the American sense, the God-given right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness is recognized. In order to exercise the right to life, one must, by extension, possess the right to protect one’s life. Should someone decide to take your life, or to imprison you, or to take your property and prevent you the means to earn a living thus depriving you of the means to continue living, you absolutely must possess the right to protect yourself. There can be no other option. You do not have to choose to exercise this right, as Yeshua did on the cross to pay the penalty for our sins, but you nonetheless possess the right. You can choose to delegate your self protection to others, but you do not cede the right to the others to protect you. And, by choosing to use others for your protection, you are inherently acknowledging their right to self-defense as they need to engage danger and potential to have to hurt people in order to protect you.

From a Biblical perspective, the right to self defense, and the defense of country, is not difficult to determine.

When a strong man, fully armed, guards his own house, his possessions are  undisturbed. Luke 11:21 (NASB)

Jesus was speaking about a greater principle in the context of this verse, but there can be no doubt that He had no problem with a man being fully armed and guarding his house.

The Hebrews and the Israelites are most often numbered by just the men. That is because their numbers of men were directly related to how much damage they could inflict in battle. Our modern idea of  “Selective Service”, registering for the draft, and the concept of “able bodied men” is taken directly from the Israel of the Old Testament. Israel was not to have a large standing army, just like the USA was founded, and it’s defenses lied in the ability of the able bodied men to take up arms in defense of their country. This is outlined in the first chapter of the book of Numbers.

The idea of the prohibition of men to own arms is much, much older than the totalitarian dictators of the 20th century and various other “enlightened” western societies. In fact, I think it is safe to say that the oldest sword control law can be found in the bible:

Now no blacksmith could be found in all the land of Israel, for the Philistines said, “Otherwise the Hebrews will make swords or spears.” 1 Sam 13:19 (NASB)

The Philistines wanted to keep Israel weak and oppressed, so they disarmed the Israelites – to the point that they had no tradesmen around that could even make farm tools. Sound familiar? There indeed is nothing new under the sun.

It is true that Jesus’ earthly ministry was pacifistic in nature, as was the way Christianity spread through the Roman Empire. Jesus’ principle to “turn the other cheek” is crucial to the spreading of the Gospel. We must be forgiving and understanding in order to show people the compassion and love that Jesus showed us when He bore our sins and died so that we may have eternal life. Early Christianity had to start under the foot of a devastating military power and many did end up being killed. The Jews and the lost sheep of the house of Israel were looking for an earthly Messiah/king to lead them in a triumphant battle for Jerusalem and greater Judea, but that was not the purpose of Yeshua’s earthly ministry. He came to show compassion and to allow the Gospel to spread to the ends of the earth. When He returns, however, he will bring a sword and legions of angels. While violence must be avoided and used as a last resort, we do have many examples in the Bible where it is justified and, sometimes, even required.