Self-Defense: What Does the Bible Say?

By Shane Idleman Published on May 13, 2024

With recent shootings in public and in churches, the question of self-defense has been coming up lately. But first, let’s be clear: What we are seeing today is not a gun problem; it’s a moral problem called sin. 

Vengeance Is Not Self-Defense

One Scripture often used to support pacifism and banning weapons is found in Proverbs 20:22: “Do not say, ‘I will recompense evil’; wait for the Lord, and He will save you.” But this Scripture is dealing with vigilantism, not self-defense.

According to Romans 13:4, one of the purposes of the authorities is to “execute wrath on him who practices evil.” The civil authorities are God’s avengers, but we can be defenders of ourselves and others.

Seek Peace Whenever Possible

As Christians, I believe we are to seek peace at every turn and not drape the cross with the flag. But what about self-defense as a last resort and biblical mandates to protect the defenseless?

Our current trend beckons us to be very careful about who, or what, we “worship,” and in whom, or what, we place our trust.

The Old Testament offers many examples, but what about the New Testament?

It does as well. In Matthew 26:52, Jesus says to Peter, “Put your sword back into its place. For all who take the sword will perish by the sword.” Jesus didn’t denounce the sword, but clarified its place. When we take premature, emotionally charged action, it may cost us our life.

Buy a Sword

Later, Jesus adds, “Have you come out as against a robber, with swords and clubs to capture me?” If He had been a thief and a robber, the clubs and swords would have been justified. In my opinion, these Scriptures imply that weapons do have a place in society, although we must be careful.

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Additionally, in Luke 22:36 Jesus said, “But now let the one who has a moneybag take it, and likewise a knapsack. And let the one who has no sword sell his cloak and buy one.” What is the context of this Scripture?

First, again I would err on the side of peace — but this isn’t always an option. One thing is certain: A sword was used for defense in Jesus’s day. Earlier, Jesus had sent the disciples on a peaceful mission trip where they did not need these items, but now He was implying that self-defense might become necessary. He wanted them to use wisdom and to be prepared.

Loving Your Enemies Doesn’t Mean Hating Your Family

Some may argue, “Didn’t Jesus say to love our enemies, and bless those who curse us, and do good to those who hate us, and pray for those who spitefully use and persecute us?” (cf. Matthew 5:43–48.) Yes, but these references refer to personal assaults, offenses, and character assassinations, not to self-defense or the protection of others. 

It is taking a quantum leap to believe that Jesus is saying, “Do good to those who are trying to maim or destroy you or your family.”

Jesus Didn’t Turn the Other Cheek

Paul tells Timothy that if “anyone does not provide for his relatives, and especially for his immediate family, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever” (1 Tim. 5:8). But if I protect my family, which is often a greater responsibility (if not equal), then I’m labeled a warmonger and accused of misapplying the Scriptures.

The Scriptures must be read in their appropriate context. For example, when Jesus was slapped, He didn’t turn the other cheek. He said, “If I have spoken wrongly, testify of the wrong; but if rightly, why do you strike Me?” (John 18:23). Although we are to err on the side of grace and peace, there is a time and a place for confrontation and protection.

Forgiveness Is Not Passivity

I want to make it clear that I’m not advocating violence or aggression; I’m advocating scriptural consistency and continuity. Context is the key factor here. Forgiving is not being passive, and granting grace is not being gullible.

Are we called to guard our families spiritually, emotionally, and financially but not physically? This makes no sense. However, my concern with the current gun debate is that we are buying into the fear narrative. Minimizing sovereignty correlates directly to magnifying worry. As R.C. Sproul once said, “Most Christians salute the sovereignty of God, but believe in the sovereignty of man.”

A GLOCK for the Flock

Many are prepared militarily for conflict, but not spiritually — which instills unhealthy fear in their families. They are motivated by the fear of man rather than the fear of God. I hear much about GLOCKs, Smith and Wessons, and Remingtons, but little about brokenness, surrender, and humility. 

Every time God’s people trusted in their weapons and armies, He called them to repentance. Our protection is in daily submission to Him. Psalm 121:2 asks, “Where does my help come from? My help comes from the Lord, the Maker of heaven and earth.” Our current trend beckons us to be very careful about who, or what, we “worship,” and in whom, or what, we place our trust. 

But before we get a GLOCK for the flock and become pistol-packing preachers, we must be watchmen battling in the courts of Heaven with prayer and fasting.

 

Shane Idleman is the founder and lead pastor of Westside Christian Fellowship in Southern California and the creator of the WCF Radio Network. His program, Regaining Lost Ground, points us back to God and reminds us that although times change, truth does not. His books, blogs, and sermons can all be found at ShaneIdleman.com.

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