What Does the Old Testament Teach About Self-Defense and Private Property?

By John Zmirak Published on February 17, 2022

I’ve written here before that one of the most dangerous temptations for Christians is to bracket the whole Old Testament, to act as if Jesus had come to abolish the Law, reveal a totally new face of God, or even (in effect) proclaim a new God with different attributes than the Jewish one.

The early Church uber-heretic Marcion taught all three of these things, quite openly and proudly. Since he got condemned and his movement disappeared, few Christians openly cite him. But all too often they imitate him, waving off inconvenient Old Testament passages as if they weren’t still Holy Writ.

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It is of course the Church as a whole (via various authorities whom of course we can argue about) that determines which parts of the Old Testament are still fully in force, and which have been superseded. But today’s Progressive Christians arrogate that right to themselves. That happens most often with prohibitions of illicit sexual acts, especially among LGBTQMYNAMEISLEGION activists.

Pacifism at War with the Old Testament

Those who would advocate pacifism insist that Jesus taught us all warfare is by its nature intrinsically evil. (By that same logic, so are personal self-defense and rebellion against tyrannical governments, as the Amish and Mennonites teach and practice today.)

This simply cannot be squared with an Old Testament where God Himself ordered the Jewish people to fight and conquer. Unless you are a Marcionite, either openly or secretly.

Pro-Israel Christians

When we trace the historic roots of the Second Amendment, we must look first to the Puritans who formed the most influential political communities of Colonial America. Those Puritans were more steeped in the Old Testament than most Christians, seeing themselves as latter-day heirs of the nation of Israel. The Puritans rejected historical anti-Judaism, and began the tradition of philo-Semitism that is now dominant among evangelical Christians. It took Oliver Cromwell to reverse the medieval ban on Jews residing in England; he formally invited Jews back to the country.

Both to understand our country’s founding culture, and to discover the theological truths it encoded in law, we must understand the Jewish tradition of thinking about self-defense. Happily, David Kopel has delved into this question in his scholarly book, The Morality of Self-Defense and Military Action: The Judeo-Christian Tradition. I’d like to pass on his findings, and talk about their relevance to the development of the Second Amendment.

Can We Kill a Burglar? It Depends

Kopel points both to the letter of Scripture and to the subsequent Jewish traditions of interpreting and applying it. The passage he cites is directly relevant to the defensive use of firearms in foiling crimes today — as well as to the mindset of Bible-reading Puritan settlers afraid of crime, Indian raids and attacks by the neighboring French settlers in Canada.

Exodus 22:2 teaches: “If a thief is found breaking in, and is struck so that he dies, there shall be no bloodguilt for him; but if the sun has risen upon him, there shall be bloodguilt for him.”

As Kopel explains, both the Hellenistic Jewish scholar Philo and the Babylonian Talmud offered rational accounts of the standard here imposed. We may use force to defend our private property from robbers. However, that force ought to be restrained, and not seek the death of the offender. That changes if the attack occurs at night — at which point deadly force becomes legitimate.

A Threat to Self and Society

Why? The Jewish thinkers realized that a night time intrusion into the family home was a greater offense, one that threatened the bodily safety of women and children in the vulnerable condition of being undressed and likely asleep. A night attack also made help from neighbors in apprehending the thief unlikely.

Kopel make a further important point, quoting St. Augustine on the connection between ordinary theft and the organized theft and coercion proper to tyrannical governments:

Like the Romans, Philo viewed all forms of theft as merely variations on a single type of attack on society: as assault on the right of ownership of private property. Thus a petty thief was no different in principle from a tyrant who stole the resources of his nation, or a nation that plundered another nation. Later, Christian theologian Augustine of Hippo (354-430 CE) made a similar point, asking “If justice be taken away, what are governments but great bands of robbers?”

Legalized Theft in Blue Cities

These are ideas worth chewing on as we watch governments in blue cities such as San Francisco and New York City effectively de-criminalize the theft of property from stores. Such suspensions of the most basic principles of Common Law are more than just sops to “community leaders” and race-hustling activists.

They are rejections of Biblical, Classical, and Natural Law precepts, which hold that private property is the foundation of freedom and peaceful cooperation among human beings. Political leaders who reject private property in principle will prove to be tyrants in practice.

From Theft to Tyranny

And indeed they have. The architects of the Terror in Revolutionary France combined mass murder with mass theft. They confiscated massive properties which pious laymen had willingly given the Church, under the euphemism of “secularization.” Those farms and vineyards — often reclaimed from wilderness and carefully tended by monks for centuries — the Jacobins sold to their cronies at bargain prices. Then they used the revenues to fund their wars of “liberation” against France’s neighbors. (In this, the revolutionaries were merely following the playbook of England’s King Henry VIII.)

Subsequent tyrannical regimes in Russia, Mexico, and Spain would follow suit — also confiscating large estates without compensation. Those thefts they labeled “land reform.”

In a lurid, grotesque imitation, the National Socialists in Germany would seize property from a priestly people, the Jews. (They stole everything from newspapers and homes to eyeglasses and pocket watches.) The euphemism employed for simple theft in this case? An adaptation of the old Jacobin usage: “Aryanization.”


John Zmirak is a senior editor at The Stream and author or co-author of ten books, including The Politically Incorrect Guide to Immigration and The Politically Incorrect Guide to Catholicism. He is co-author with Jason Jones of “God, Guns, & the Government.”

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