Does the Bible support self-defense?

The mass shooting earlier this month at Sutherland Springs Baptist Church in Texas left 26 people dead, made a hero of a civilian who confronted and shot the murderer, and raised lots of security-related questions for Christians:

  • Should I buy a gun?
  • Does my church have a security plan?
  • Is it ok to defend myself, or my church family, when threatened?
  • How do I reconcile Jesus’ instructions to buy swords with His rebuke of Peter for using one?
  • What would Jesus have done in Sutherland Spring?

The answers to at least some of these questions are matters of Christian conscience over which followers of Jesus sincerely disagree. Others concern proper exegesis of Scripture, or simply create fodder for social media.

So, perhaps we should ask: Does the Bible say anything about self-defense?

The answer is yes.

Four biblical principles

Space does not permit an exhaustive review of Bible passages on self-defense, but it may help to highlight a few biblical principles:

Your body is a temple. The apostle Paul reminds us that our bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit (1 Cor. 6:19). We should be good stewards of the Spirit’s home. That means healthy diets, proper rest and exercise, and care for our mental and emotional well-being. Implied in Paul’s instruction is the notion that we should keep ourselves from physical harm. Today, that involves such basic habits as buckling our seat belts and locking our doors at night.

Your family is a treasure. The Bible is replete with passages about the value of a husband or wife, and the blessing of children. We should make every effort to nurture our families’ physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual health, and provide a safe place for them to enjoy the gift of a Christian home.

In one of Jesus’ parables about the coming of the Son of Man, He tells about an inattentive homeowner who allows his house to be broken into (Matt. 24:36-44). While the point of His story is that Christians should be alert for the coming of Christ, Jesus seems to acknowledge that some type of home security is wise. The Old Testament is more explicit with instructions for dealing with intruders (Ex. 22:2-4).

The apostle Paul reminds us that Christians who do not provide for their own families are worse than unbelievers (1 Tim. 5:8). While this primarily means supplying the basics of food, clothing, and shelter, it’s not much of a stretch to consider that it also applies to safe and comfortable accommodations. Today, we employ special car seats for infants, install security systems in our homes, and join neighborhood watch programs. Some go further — arming themselves with weapons, or learning self-defense techniques.

The degree to which we engage in these activities is a matter of Christian conscience and involves such factors as community, liability, and law enforcement. Some homes and neighborhoods are safer than others, and some believers are more comfortable with the responsibility for using deadly force when necessary.

Your place of worship is a testimony. All of us want our church buildings to be warm and inviting worship centers, not menacing fortresses. Our places of worship should be integral to our communities. As such, no one should feel unwelcome, or afraid to enter. At the same time, many church members and visitors take for granted that competent church leaders are watching out for them.

In Jesus’ day, the temple in Jerusalem had a police force, consisting mostly of Levites who guarded the gates and carried out custodial duties. Many churches today are able to strike a balance between openness and security. They employ off-duty police officers, select and train in-house security teams, install and monitor alarms, and develop procedures for restricted access during hours of worship.

What’s right for your church depends on many factors, from size to location to crime rates in the community. But at the end of the day, followers of Jesus are to be salt and light to a lost world. The way our churches respond to the reality of living in a sinful and fallen world says a lot about how we view the community where Christ has planted us.

Your ultimate security is in Jesus. With respect to self-defense, it seems there are two extremes to avoid. First, complacency. Doing little or nothing to address the dangers all around us suggests either poor stewardship or fatalism. Just because the Lord numbers our days does not release us from the responsibility to be faithful managers of all He has entrusted to us.

The second danger is cynicism. Over-reacting to the perils we face projects an unhealthy distrust of all people and fails to embrace the vulnerability with which Jesus walked among us. He gave Himself up to an angry mob, suffered the injustice of a kangaroo court, and died naked on a Roman cross to pay our sin debt and purchase our eternal security.

Whatever we may take away from the tragedy in Sutherland Springs, we should keep in mind that the world was not always this way, nor will it always be this way. One day, Jesus sets everything right. Meanwhile, we are to “engage in business until I come back” (Luke 19:13).