by Dan Griffin
People have asked, “Should Christians carry firearms?” Some say yes, others say no, and some are admittedly struggling with the answer, having no clear direction on what is acceptable in God’s eyes as far as self-defense. What follows is Biblical support of my position. Although believers and nonbelievers alike are welcome to read and debate it, the intended audience is other Christians since we are to use the Bible for guidance in our everyday lives.
Should Christians carry firearms?
Yes, I believe Christians should carry a firearm if they wish, even in church. I think we have a Biblical responsibility to at least protect our loved ones and those around us. God seems to use human agency. That is, God provides our food, yes, but we are not to sit at home and watch Oprah, waiting for manna from heaven to drop in front of our big, flat-screen TV. God expects me to work for which I get a paycheck whereby I can pay the store who bought the bread from a baker who bought grain from a farmer who used a tractor to till and harvest the field which God caused to grow through sun and rain and the marvels of life. God could directly give us the food, but he doesn’t. He could even nourish us directly into the blood stream, but He delights to use us as tools to accomplish His will of providing for us.
Similarly we could all refuse the care of physicians and the wonders of modern medicine, saying “God will protect me from everything,” but it doesn’t work that way. We will get sick. We will get cancer. We avail ourselves of doctors and medicine when needed. This has nothing to do with trusting God. This has everything to do with living in a fallen world. God told us that.
It seems that the same is true of self-defense as well, as backed up by scripture as I understand it.
There is nothing in the Bible that teaches pacifism in the face of evil for all believers. Some people have even claimed, incorrectly, that missionaries or those working abroad (or at home) do not defend themselves. This is simply not the case. The St. James Church Massacre in Africa is but one example. The missionary and pastor Charl Van Wyk pulled his own gun and fired back at the attackers, saving untold lives. The assertion that people “working for God” always go about unarmed or unprotected by escorts who are armed is simply untrue.
Even here in the United States many churches, particularly large ones, have armed security, and on occasion they have had to use it. To say their considered Biblical positions are wrong and that they are simply not trusting God would, I think, be inaccurate.
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 Timothy 5:8
Obviously you cannot only provide your family with housing and food, but with spiritual guidance, love, and protection as well. Those who trust God should also make adequate provision for their own defense. For a man to refuse to provide adequately for his and his family’s defense would be to defy God. We are not to allow wicked to flourish.
Like a muddied spring or a polluted well is a righteous man who gives way to the wicked. Proverbs 25:26
The Bible clearly distinguishes the difference between the duties of the government and the duties of the individual. Governments have the responsibility of the administration of justice. Individuals have the responsibility of self-defense, of protecting their lives and the lives of their loved ones from attackers. Both the Old and New Testaments teach individual self-defense.
If a thief is found breaking in and is struck so that he dies, there shall be no bloodguilt for him (i.e., he is not guilty of murder). Exodus 22:2
The Hebrew word “die” here is transliterated as muwth and literally means to die as penalty, be put to death. Killing in defense of self. No bloodguilt. Period. Remember, Jesus *is* The Word, and The Word is the same yesterday, today, and tomorrow. Hebrews 13:8. I am the Lord, I do not change. Malachi 3:6. All scripture (including the Old Testament) is profitable for doctrine… 2 Timothy 3:16.
Some Christians mistakenly say that we are never to use violence. Jesus certainly used violence when he drove the moneychangers out of the temple. He personally used a whip to force the men who were cheating the people away from the temple.
And making a whip of cords, he drove them all out of the temple, with the sheep and oxen. And he poured out the coins of the money-changers and overturned their tables. John 2:15
Jesus did not allow the wicked to flourish.
Two of the more famous passages of the Bible often quoted regarding the carrying of weapons are Luke 22:36, 49-51 and Matthew 26:51.
He said to them, “But now if you have a purse, take it, and also a bag; and if you don’t have a sword, sell your cloak and buy one…When Jesus’ followers saw what was going to happen, they said, “Lord, should we strike with our swords?” And one of them struck the servant of the high priest, cutting off his right ear. But Jesus answered, “No more of this!” And he touched the man’s ear and healed him. Luke 22:36, 49-51
With that, one of Jesus’ companions reached for his sword, drew it out and struck the servant of the high priest, cutting off his ear. “Put your sword back in its place,” Jesus said to him. Matthew 26:51-52
While Christ told Peter to put away his sword, as Charl Van Wyk wrote, he clearly did not tell him to get rid of it forever. That would have contradicted what he had told the disciples only hours before. Peter’s sword was to protect his own life from danger. It was not needed to protect Jesus, the Creator of the Universe. The disciples regularly carried swords, as did many people in those days in defense of themselves. In fact, history tells us that people traveling up to Jerusalem or through the countryside would often travel with weapons or in groups for self-defense because traveling alone was dangerous, as the victim the Good Samaritan helped could testify to. He was viciously attacked by robbers and left for dead.
Jesus summarized all the laws of the Bible into two: Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, strength, and mind, and love your neighbor as yourself. He then gave the illustration of the man from Samaria who took care of a victim at his own expense after the “religious” people ignored him. If you had the opportunity to save the life of an innocent victim by shooting an attacker, should you instead turn the other cheek? The Bible speaks of no right to allow innocents to be murdered, but it does speak of responsibilities in the face of an attack as providers and neighbors.
To those who say fighting back—self-defense—is not what God would have us do, do you also stop to help others out on the side of the road when they are in trouble? Give a ride to those whose cars have broken down? Offer assistance to those on the highway or in life that you meet in need? Clearly the parable of the Good Samaritan teaches that we should help others in distress. If you say, “no, because that is dangerous,” I would point out that Jesus did not say to help your neighbor only if it doesn’t inconvenience you, cause you any fear, or put you in danger.
The Old Testament
God clearly showed us in the Old Testament the relationship between righteousness and self-defense. When the people left God in the time of the judges, and later when they rebelled and demanded a king, it always resulted in disarmament and oppression.
In Genesis we read about the first murder. We do not know what weapon, if any, Cain used to kill his brother Abel. But the weapon doesn’t matter. It was the evil in Cain’s heart that was the cause of the murder. God dealt with the murderer, not the weapon.
Let me talk a little more about Exodus 22:2-3. The principle is that God allows and justifies the use of force (violence), even to death. He never states that you should even allow a thief to steal, much less murder your children in front of you. Defense of self, family, and home aren’t even in question here. They are assumed because it is our duty, our God-mandated responsibility. Now in this example of a thief, at night if you are using force to repel him and he dies, you are given “the benefit of the doubt.” You do not know if the intruder was simply a thief or a murderer. Maybe the intruder’s death was an accident, maybe it was justified. However, in the daylight, not only could you respond with force more appropriately, even if you let him go altogether you can presumably identify him later and justice can be meted out. But in any case stealing, alone, is not justification for intentionally killing someone. But the use of force to repel evil clearly is, even to the point of death sometimes. That’s the point of Exodus 22:2-3.
Rescue the weak and the needy; deliver them from the hand of the wicked. Psalm 82:4
Rescue those being led away to death; hold back those staggering toward slaughter. If you say, “But we knew nothing about this,” does not he who weighs the heart perceive it? Does not he who guards your life know it? Will he not repay everyone according to what they have done? Proverbs 24:11-12
The general principle of using force (violence) to repel force (violence) is allowed, and I would argue our responsibility. Christians, as well as non-Christians, who carry firearms are not hoping someone will offend us so we can kill him. Nothing could be further from the truth. I hope I never have to draw my sidearm, and I would never shoot someone who is stealing my iPod. But I would shoot to stop someone who was trying to kidnap my daughter or murder someone in my presence. The point is to stop evil, not to go around killing people. A gun isn’t the answer for someone stealing from you, at least in America today. It might be appropriate for someone trying to kill you or those around you.
I would also like to point out one other thing at this time. We must not confuse God’s eternal principles with specific laws applicable only to the Hebrews back then. They are different. A lot of people mix the two together as if they were the same thing. They are not. I am allowed to eat bacon. I am not allowed to murder.
Guns save lives, and isn’t it our responsibility as Christians to save lives if possible?
Studies show that violence goes down with firearms ownership both in the United States and across the world.
In a country with practically zero firearms ownership, the violence in the United Kingdom dwarfs that of the United States. The rate of violent assaults resulting in serious bodily injury in England and Wales is three times higher than the United States. The rate of violent assaults resulting in serious bodily injury in Scotland is six times higher than the United States. The overall violent crime rate for the UK is higher than Austria, South Africa, Sweden, Belgium, Canada, Finland, the Netherlands, Luxembourg, France, and on and on. In fact, the overall violent crime rate for the UK is over four times higher than the United States, and they have no firearms.
There is a false assumption among those that would ban firearms ownership that reducing the number of guns saves lives and makes society safer as a whole. First of all, that is patently false as has been shown time and again by every reputable study and government statistic. Second of all, we cannot eliminate guns from criminals, but even if we could, we cannot ignore the lives that would be lost by innocents protecting themselves from more powerful attackers. And this is a problem.
Their unreasoned argument is that it is better that 10 attackers live and 100 innocents be slaughtered. Do they have such little regard for innocent life? Innocents protect their lives with firearms. In their myopic view, they would throw the innocent to the wolf.
Jesus clearly, over and over and over again, sided with the weak and innocent, not the powerful and evil.
But it’s the role of the government to protect us, right?
No. Courts all the way up to the Supreme Court of the United States have long held that the government has no responsibility to protect you or me.
Law-enforcement has no duty to protect individuals. South v. Maryland
There is no duty owed by the police, the city, or the state to act to prevent or avoid harm to citizens. Susman v. City of Los Angeles
The state has no affirmative duty to protect an individual, even if they know that person is in danger. DeShaney v. Winnebago County Department of Social Services
Neither the police nor the government is liable to victims for failure to provide adequate police protection. Warren v. District of Columbia
Police departments enjoy absolute immunity for failure to provide sufficient police protection. Hartzler v. City of San Jose
Neither cities nor police departments are responsible for failing to enforce restraining orders or protect citizens. Castle Rock v. Gonzales
“Failure to provide adequate police protection will not result in governmental liability, nor will a public entity be liable for failure to arrest a person who is violating the law.”Antique Arts Corp. v. City of Torrence
“There is no constitutional right to be protected by the state against being murdered.”Bowers v. DeVito
What should the position of Christians be with regard to serving in the military or law enforcement? That is, should Christians carry a firearm and kill people simply because their boss tells them it’s okay? It is their job to defend themselves with deadly force if necessary, but it’s not our responsibility to defend ourselves with deadly force if necessary? Or should Christians not be a part of government, law enforcement, or the military?
David wrote in Psalm 46:1 that “God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble.” This did not conflict with praising the God “Who trains my hands for war and my fingers for battle,” in Psalm 144:1.
Jesus never told the centurion to quit the Roman army, nor did John the Baptist when Roman soldiers came to him to be baptized. If it is morally acceptable for nations to have standing armies to protect their citizens, then it follows that private citizens, who are part of a nation, should be able to protect themselves against aggression.
“But what are Christians—either collectively or individually—going to do when the enemy one day has a weapon greater than guns?” you might ask. They already have that. Our own governments have that. That is not the issue. We cannot defeat Satan or the anti-Christ. That is Jesus’ job. I read the end of the book.
I do not believe Jesus taught pacifism throughout the Old Testament or New Testament. Jesus always taught opposition to the wicked, whether he was with us in word or flesh. So we live on. In the meantime, that does not mean we are to abandon our families and friends and leave them to the wolves of society. As long as we are alive we have responsibilities. One is to tell others about Jesus. I believe another is to protect our loved ones and people around us. I believe this is Biblical. I do not believe Jesus would have us sit idly by and watch as our daughters are raped and murdered.
Conclusion (when to accept the attack)
With God it seems that force is his instrument of last resort when it comes to dealing with evil. Note how long evil seems to be strong in Revelation. Peter explains God’s apparent slowness:
The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance. 2 Peter 3:9
There may be some times when it is appropriate not to be armed, such as suffering for the gospel. If you are evangelizing, perhaps you would choose not to be strapped. But then again, I think those would be times when you alone are in danger.
I believe there is Biblical support for the use of violence in self-defense, but to match God’s character, it always gives preference to the actions of those in authority where possible, and it always leans toward patience. It is a judgment call as to when which tool is used, and when one should simply accept the attack as Jesus did when it is clearly for the Gospel.
Jesus said this:
My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. John 15:12-13
The defense of others, and self, in the face of evil is clearly Biblical.
The St. James Church Massacre and the reuniting of the attacker with the preacher.
Some time after the St. James Church Massacre, the preacher called to make an appointment with one of the people that attacked his church. The head of the Azanian People’s Liberation Army (APLA), the armed wing of the Pan African Congress (PAC) called him back. The pastor was now going to meet, instead, the man who had given the order to attack the church! That meeting did take place. The preacher shared the good news of Jesus, and the commander justified his actions as “fighting for the cause.” The preacher invited the commander to attend church the following Sunday, to which he agreed. The commander did, in fact, arrive at the precise time agreed to that Sunday. He did travel to church with the preacher and sat through the message, which impressed him. Afterward they both visited the attacker the pastor had wanted to speak with in jail, and the pastor presented the gospel to him. The commander asked the preacher what he would have done if he had been the one in the chair that had shot the attacker, would he have shot back? The preacher said yes, most definitely he would have shot back. When he asked that question, the commander didn’t realize until later that the preacher was the one that shot the attacker in the first place. This was all captured on news camera. “I believe very strongly in the protection of the innocent,” the pastor said.
The Holy Bible
Shooting Back by Charl van Wyk
John Bell, Ph.D., Michigan State University