September 17, 2014

Should Christians Practice Self-Defense?

Growing up my parents used to tell me two things that you may have heard in your youth; “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me” and something along the lines of “Don’t start fights, but if you get hit, then finish them.” Their meaning was to only use violence as a last resort and then use only enough to stop the fight. There are believers that think using any form of violence is wrong. They often site a few different scriptures to support their arguments, and they site Martin Luther king and Jesus Himself as examples. I’ll be honest; I have never understood pacifists. I can understand not slugging everyone that frustrates me but I have always held the opinion that sometimes when a man steps too far, a whoopin’ is one of the fastest ways to set him straight and yes, myself included.

As followers of Christ we’re told that we’re to die to self and become more like Him. I found a martial arts class that I wanted to take so I decided to dig into the Word and pray about it, asking God for wisdom. If I came to the conclusion that the pacifists have it right, not only was I going to avoid the martial arts class but I was going to ask for God to change me into a pacifist. His will not mine be done, even if I don’t understand it.

The Old Testament
There are many examples in the Old Testament where God used violence, commanded His angels to, or commanded His people, the Jews, to use it. Some examples are; the flood, Sodom and Gomorrah, the plagues brought on Pharaoh and the Egyptians. I’ll stop before this article is even more long-winded.

“Thou Shall Not…”
I know there are some people who think that the Sixth Commandment states not to kill. However, “Thou shall not kill”, is actually a misquote of the actual commandment. The actual commandment is “Thou shall not murder”. All murder involves killing but not all killing is murder. There are some people who are confused by a Christian’s ability to be pro-life and pro-death penalty. What they fail to understand is that we are pro-life of the innocent, both child and victim of murder. The government is sanctioned by God to seek vengeance for crime and when government puts a murderer to death it is an example of when killing isn’t murder, its justice.

“An Eye For an Eye” Exodus 21:23-27
This is an often misunderstood verse. Gandhi is credited as saying “Any eye for an eye, leaves the whole world blind.” Gandhi did not understand rabbinical law. If he did he would have understood that this verse was not about retribution. Author R. Kent Hughes writes in his book The Sermon on the Mount: The Message of the Kingdom, that eye for an eye was “Far from being savage legislation, it was intrinsically merciful because it limited vengeance. The typical primitive blood feud knew nothing of equity. A small infraction by one tribe against another – for instance, trespassing – was met with a beating, which was returned by homicide, which was then countered with genocide.”
He goes on to explain that this law “was given to the judges of Israel as a basis for adjudication as Deuteronomy 19:16-21 makes so clear. Individuals were not permitted to use this law to settle disputes with others, only the courts were permitted to do so. Moreover it was not literally carried out by the Jewish legal system.” “The Mishna devotes an entire section entitled Baba Kamma to assessing proper damages”

The New Testament
As we saw in the Old Testament section, God used violence and commanded it to be used. As Christians we, in large part, use the New Testament and the life of Christ as our guide. While He didn’t directly use violence, was Jesus a pacifist?

The Sermon on the Mount – Mathew 5:38-48
This is one of Jesus’ most famous sermons and also one of the most cited to depict Him as a pacifist. In it Jesus explains how to deal with insult, unfair lawsuit, walking an extra mile and borrowing freely. Only one of these deals with the topic at hand, so I will only cover it.

Turn the Other Cheek
There are so many people who think this verse means, offer the other cheek to be slapped, to not only not defend yourself, but to ask for more. The trouble with this is that context is important. I have done a fair bit of research and I have found four theories that take the verse in context of the Jewish people at the time of Christ.

Here are some things to keep in mind.

Use of the Left Hand
Many cultures have used the left hand for “unclean” tasks and I believe some still do. I remember my father, who is left handed telling me that when he was a child his parents tried to force him to use his right hand for writing and other tasks. I mention this only to give some example of how widespread this practice was. Because the left hand was used for unclean tasks you would not use it, not even to strike someone you deemed less honorable then yourself.

Honor
Honor is something else that is lost on western culture. In many cultures, even today, honor is valued higher than life. This is why there are honor killings in some religions and cultures. Honor was also very important in the days when Jesus walked the earth. He condemned the Pharisees for always wanting to sit in the place of honor. He also rebuked the disciples telling them in Mark 9:35 “Anyone who wants to be the first must take last place and be the servant of everyone else.” One would only slap someone they considered less honorable then themselves and Jesus states, “If your right cheek is slapped.” Since the left hand would not be used, one would have to use their right hand for a backhand slap. A backhanded slap carries more dishonor then a palm.

The Theories
From this point the four theories separate a bit. Theory one states that if, after the slap you “turned the other cheek”, the person would then either have to use their left hand to backhand slap you, which would bring them dishonor; strike you with an open palm or fist or the slapper would walk away. Either of the three options would put you at the same level of the slapper. So when Jesus said to turn the other cheek, He was telling those thought of as “lower” to put the slapper in a sort of checkmate, thus them declaring the slappee their equal.

Theory two is much like theory one, except by turning the cheek you could see the true motives of the slapper. If they regained composure and left you alone, then you have not acted out of vengeance. If they truly meant you harm and went for a punch or left handed attack you could then defend yourself and not be acting out of vengeance.

Theory three asserts that Jesus was not talking about an actual slap, but was talking about an insult. He meant that we should not trade insults or an eye for an eye, that we should ignore the insult. This is perhaps the first version of “sticks and stones”?

Theory four comes from R. Kent Hughes and his book The Sermon on the Mount: The Message of the Kingdom. He states “When Jesus spoke of being slapped on the right cheek He was describing an insult that comes because of ones faith. It was an insult for which a Jew could seek legal satisfaction according to the law of Lex Talionis. That is, he could seek damages. But do not do it “If you are dishonored as a heretic,” says Jesus, “you should not go to law about it; rather you should show yourselves to be truly my disciples by the way in which you bear the hatred and the insult, overcome the evil, forgive the injustice.” In short, though you could take your opponent to the cleaners, do not do it, instead lovingly absorb the insult.

What this means for us is that when we are insulted or abused for Christ’s sake (whatever form that insult may take), we must not respond by getting even, by getting our legal pound of flesh according to Lex Talionis, but must turn the other cheek. Jesus calls us to swallow our pride and give up our “rights” to reparation and fairness. That is the basic, essential interpretation.

The four theories while different have the same basic message; don’t react to insult, whether physical or verbal. None of the theories assert that Jesus was telling us to “turn the cheek” to take another slap. I think that is because when you put the verse in the context of the culture in the day in which it was written, it just doesn’t make sense.

The Two Swords Luke 22:35
During the Last Supper in Luke 22:35 Jesus reminds the disciples that when they go to spread the good news to bring nothing with them. Then in Luke 22:36 Jesus tells them something very interesting; 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.” Here is another place where context is key. In R. Kent Hughes book The Sermon on the Mount: The Message of the Kingdom the author is explaining Mathew 5:40 and in it he explains how valuable the cloak was in that day; “It was possible in that day to sue others for the very shirt on their backs. However, no one could take anothers cloak for a permanent, twenty-four-hour-a day possession. A cloak or outer robe was indispensable for living in Palestine. So even if you lost your shirt (or tunic) in court and your opponent asked for your cloak and won it he had to return it every evening for you to sleep in.”

Seeing how important the cloak was, why would Jesus then tell the disciples to sell it if they did not have a sword? The closest thing I can think of that we would depend on as much as they depended on their cloak is our vehicle. This would be like Jesus saying, find another way to get to work, another way to get the kids to practice and sell your car and buy a rifle. Why would He do that? I believe that He knew He would be leaving soon and He wanted to make sure the disciples were equipped to defend themselves physically.

A sword, like a rifle, is a weapon used for violent acts or for the threat of violent acts. Whether offensive or defensive it is still a violent act. Jesus could have told the disciples to run away if faced with danger. He could have told them to call on the Father to send a fleet of angels but instead Jesus told them to get swords. In Luke 22:38 the disciples said, “See, Lord, here are two swords.” “That is enough,” he replied. We can only speculate but I think that Jesus wanted them to be able to defend themselves but not be seen as an armed force.

Peter in the Garden of Gethsemane John 18:10, 11
Then Simon Peter, who had a sword, drew it and struck the high priest’s servant, cutting off his right ear. (The servant’s name was Malchus.) 18:11 Jesus commanded Peter, “Put your sword away! Shall I not drink the cup the Father has given me?” Jesus knew Peter had the sword; He had just told them to buy them at the Last Supper. Jesus stopped Peter from interfering with God’s will. In Mathew 26:52 Jesus tells Peter “Put your sword back in its place,” Jesus said to him, “for all who draw the sword will die by the sword.” Two things stand out here. Jesus did not say that none of His followers should live or die by the sword. Jesus was telling Peter that he should not live by the sword because Jesus had already told Peter in Mathew 16:18 “And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church and the gates of Hades will not overcome it.”

The Second Coming Revelation 19:11-21
The first time Jesus was here He tossed the temple tables but never used violence on another person. However, when He comes back, Revelation 19:11-21 describes Jesus killing with His very words and treading the nations in the wine press of the fury of the wrath of God the Almighty. That doesn’t sound like a pacifist to me.

I do believe that under certain circumstances we as Christians are allowed if not required to use violence to defend ourselves, our loved ones and those whom are unable. What are those circumstances? The same ones my parents gave me when I was young, “Don’t start fights but if you get hit finish them.” Violence should always be as a last resort. When it is used there should be sufficient violence to stop the threat. When the threat is removed, if you do not stop, you are no longer defending yourself but taking vengeance and vengeance belongs to the government and ultimately to our God.

Comments

  1. thanks for your insight! was very useful to read this would be good to have some level of dialogue with you too.

    Im on facebook if thats not to weird.

    • Chris Ray says:

      Thanks for the comments, I sent you an e-mail as well.

      Find me on facebook if you like, I try to check in once or twice a day.

  2. Great topic and read. As a guy how actually teaches martial arts at my church I truely believe in preparing yourself for those “just in case” instances. Be safe and God Bless.
    Mike

    • Chris Ray says:

      Thanks for the compliments. Good on you for preparing for those “just in case” things and for teaching people at you class some self-defense.

      God bless.

  3. Forrest says:

    As a believer in Jesus Christ I too have wrestled with the idea of being a pacifist, that is, one who would not strike back if forced into a situation. For over 3 decades of training and teaching both self defense and martial arts I have come across many situations where when accosted I always prayed before, during and after the situation. This I found was one principle that showed me God’s presence with me when in danger. We are always to be prepared, Spiritual and Physically because danger is all around us. Living in a sinful and fallen world believers will face dangers from sinful man. There may be times where you can no longer turn the other cheek in protecting someone else. As long as we are praying and walking with the Lord we know that no matter what we will prevail.

    • Chris Ray says:

      This was wonderfully put and great advice. Having the presence of mind to be able to pray before, during and after a situation and not just act is an ability we can all hope to achieve.

  4. An incredibly well-done biblical look at self defense is contained in the book “Shooting Back” by Clark Van Wyck available from WorldNetDaily.com

  5. I think the author is missing a great point – the distinction between “living by the sword” and carrying or using a sword for defense even as a career. “Living by the sword” connotes a chosen life of violence – a criminal. Jesus asks us not to live by the sword, but he does not ask us (or his disciples whom he explicitly commanded to buy swords) not to use them, train with them or defend our life and the lives of others with them.

  6. Luke 22:36..
    “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”
    This is highlighted in my Bibles and used often when this topic comes up.
    Peace.. JayJay

  7. GhillieMan says:

    Hello Chris,

    Per your invitation, I just read your article “Should Christians Practice Self Defense” for the first time. You have provided a very intriguing set of theories and interpretations for the modern Christian to consider. I appreciate that. However, I have learned from matriculation from seminary school that many theologians are the biggest sissies I have ever met. Sissies both in the sense of pacifists, and/or homosexuals. And they want to spread their spirit of Sissyfication by writing interpretations and commentaries on Holy Scripture.

    Growing up in “The Hood” as a pastor’s son, I was taught the scriptures about turning the other cheek, too. But my parents told me that they did not raise me to be somebody’s punching bag. So for me, the practical solution was to control one’s emotions and be slow to anger (walk away if you can), but Beat Down whoever starts a physical fight with you (e.g. attacks you).

    Those principles are still relevant today, with a HUGE condition: Todays hoodlums rarely go hand-to-hand in a fair fist fight. They victimize their prey by a Flash Mob, Home Invasion, and use lethal weapons in their arsenal. Therefore, the targeted victim MAY NOT BE ABLE to walk away from a threat and could be forced to take lethal action if he or she is in fear of his life.

    Lastly, your line in the above article is a Gem: “I’ll be honest; I have never understood pacifists. I can understand not slugging everyone that frustrates me but I have always held the opinion that sometimes when a man steps too far, a whoopin’ is one of the fastest ways to set him straight and yes, myself included.”

    Take Care,

    …GhillieMan

  8. There is a serious error in your article, Jesus told his disciples to buy a sword so a prophecy could be fulfilled which was “that he may be accounted among the criminals” that is why it was so important to get a sword, if it was for self defense he would tell them go buy 12 swords.
    keep reading in the verse that follows to see that buying of the sword was simply to fulfill another prophecy nothing else.

    • Sorry Danny I still disagree. It was not only criminals that carries swords, and that was NOT why Jesus was considered a criminal. It was because He defied the Pharisees and rebelled against the Jewish leadership and was hung with two other criminals.

      I’m curious, where have you heard this?

      • lets examine that verse (Luke22:35-38)

        And he said unto them, When I sent you without purse, and scrip, and shoes, lacked ye any thing? And they said, Nothing. 36Then said he unto them, But now, he that hath a purse, let him take it, and likewise his scrip: and he that hath no sword, let him sell his garment, and buy one.
        So far we see Jesus is telling them to buy a sword, but it doesn’t stop there we keep reading… “For I say unto you, that this that is written must yet be accomplished in me, And he was reckoned among the transgressors:” (Luke22:38)
        here he continues and explains that a prophecy needs to be fulfilled about him from Isaiah 53:12

        we continue reading…”for the things concerning me have an end. 38And they said, Lord, behold, here are two swords. And he said unto them, It is enough.”

        he told them 2 swords is enough and of course everything in this passage is in context, he told those who have no sword to buy one and when they told him they have two swords Jesus said “it is enough” it is enough for what? to defend 12 disciples or to be used later on to cut off one of the guards ear and be accounted among the transgressors? it parallels with Mark 15:28 when he was crucified with the criminals because of what happened earlier.

        Deep inside I know God will take care of me as stupid as it sounds because so far he did, the disciples never went out with guns blazing, they accepted their faith and trusted God, they died for their faith, its not easy to have such faith as not to have a gun and trust God completely, that is why Jesus said if we only had faith in the size of mustard seed we could move mountains.
        And than again we have the old testament which is full of wars and people like David who killed hundreds if not thousands of philistines and he was God’s favorite.

        • I understand the point you are making, but I don’t come to the same conclusion when looking at the verses you listed. It was not because of the swords that Christ was seen as a rebel, or criminal, it was because of the things that He spoke about starting around Luke 22:15 with the last supper and Christ telling them that He would be put to death and called a criminal for proclaiming to be the Messiah.

          The verse in Isaiah you list doesn’t have to do with the two swords either. It also has to do with Christ being seen as a criminal and rebel for proclaiming to be God. To say that Christ was seen as a rebel for having the two swords at that is how He was completing Isaiah is to say that the Pharisees and other Jewish leaders were fine with Jesus claiming to be God and that they hung Him from a tree for His group being armed rebels and criminals.

          Maybe I misunderstood you, but it sounds like you’re equating those who have firearms and chose to use them if needed to protect themselves and their loved ones as having a lack of faith. Does that then mean you with your stored food and other preparedness items then have a lack of faith as well?

          The answer to both is of course not. God does provide, He gave me the common sense to see danger of all kinds, and the ability and sense to take precautions. The ability to store food now, and the ability to defend myself if needed.

          You mention the Old Testament, and yes it is filled with violence, God commanded violence against those who opposed Him and His people. But in truth the greatest violence the earth will have ever seen will take place when Christ returns. Our God is not a pacifist and I do not believe He has any problem with the righteous use of violence used in self-defense. If He did, He would be a hypocrite, and that just isn’t possible.

          If you make the personal choice not to use force to defend yourself, that is up to you. But I don’t think God will see it as sin for those of us who make the choice, as long as we do not do so as an act of vengeance.

          • Indeed it is a pickle, on one hand we have warriors like Samson and Joshua and David who were great warriors and very beloved by God and on the other hand we should love our enemies. I do believe that God eventually looks at the heart of a person and that is whats really important to God not whether he owned a gun or not.
            I understand that Jesus was found guilty by the pharisees not only because of the two swords but because he claimed to be the messiah(he never claimed to be God he is the messiah not God)
            Still in that verse in Luke Jesus continues and explains why they should buy a sword so it may be fulfilled in him he did not say buy a sword so you can protect yourself, if he told them to buy a sword to protect themselves than it contradicts completely what he taught them to do, in fact they disobeyed him by not buying and using swords throughout their ministry, if Jesus told them to buy the swords for protection than why isn’t even mentioned once that they used a sword for self defense? on the contrary they let themselves to be murdered! it is all in context.

          • I think we’ll have to agree to disagree, but like you said, God will judge our hearts.

  9. A personal story I would like to share.
    My now 10yo son and I have moved to south East Asia about 7 years ago. We live in an area that is part muslim, though they never seem to cause any violence and pretty much stay to themselves here. A few days ago my son and I went to the open air market just down the street and as we was looking and walking passing the sale cubes we came across a man selling knives and swords. As we approached we noticed a muslim man holding and examining a knife about 12 inches long. He then looked up at us and the expression on his face turned. My son notices this as well. I took my son’s hand continued walking around behind the muslim to the end of the cube and instructed my son to pick up the longest sword and give it to me, as I held the sword up looking at it from top to bottom, I turn my head and looked at the muslim guy with the sword still up. He put down the knife and walked away.
    After making a purchase with the seller my son asked me why I did that, I told him the Lord instructed us to buy a sword. We both went home and had us a bible study.
    I think the Lord was giving us a message that just showing the “armed will” to defend yourself is sometimes enough!

    • Chris Ray says:

      I think it is fair to say that when it comes to bullies, the mere showing that you are not afraid to use force is enough most of the time.

  10. I think it is important to understand context within the verse speaking about buying swords and keeping a bag/purse on you. What Jesus was saying is this, “while I’m here on the earth you were taken care of” (ie. Not needing sandals, purses, whatever) “but after the prophecy of being numbered among criminals is fulfilled (or the crucifixion, for those of you keeping score) you’ll need to carry your own belongings such as a purse a bag and a sword.” Jesus was instructing them on how to best prepare for a life of ministry outside of Jesus’ time on this earth. Also a point has to be made to define why the disciples let themselves be killed for Christ instead of defending themselves, and that is this. In a situation where someone threatens your life because of your belief in Christ, that is when you should abstain from self-defense, as I would personally hope I have the strength to do in such a time, Jesus and the disciples let themselves be killed so that people would know the gospel. However someone pulling a gun on you to rob you isn’t anything to do with being martyred for Christ, and as such I would apply whatever force necessary to stop the threat.

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