“On balance it seems that Jesus is not telling the disciples to buy actual swords. He is saying that they are about to enter into very perilous times and they will need to keep the sword of the Spirit ‘half drawn’ at all times” —Paul Carter.1
“Is it foolish to be defenseless in a hostile world, where everyone else is carrying a weapon? By man’s reckoning, probably. But would it be any wiser in God’s reckoning to hold a weapon that can so easily take the life of another, even in self-defense? Why imagine the life of one—you or your family—be worth more than that of another?”—Edric Sng.2
“David said to Saul, ‘Your servant was keeping his father’s sheep; and when a lion or a bear came, and took a lamb out of the flock, I went out after him, and struck him, and rescued it out of his mouth. When he arose against me, I caught him by his beard, and struck him and killed him. Your servant struck both the lino and the bear. This uncircumcised Philistine shall be as one of them, since he has defied the armies of the living God’” David to the 1st King of Israel, Saul (1 Samuel 17.34-36; WEB).
For as long as I can remember I have listened to arguments both for and against armed defense. There is no question that the issue revolving around fighting or killing with a weapon as powerful as a gun is troublesome to a large portion of the population. I was born in the United States of America. I realize that this affords me a particular outlook regarding armed defense that many who do not share my pedigree, will struggle to understand. It is as confusing to some as Jesus commanding His disciples to purchase swords (Luke 22.36).
In terms of Eisegesis…
The message of our Lord seems straightforward enough. If you don’t have a sword, you’re going to need to buy one. You may even need to sell your cloak to get one. If so, do it.
However the arguer denies a simple reading of the text and says, “He must have been speaking figuratively. Jesus didn’t really mean to buy swords. He just meant getting the Sword of the Spirit ready to fight the upcoming spiritual battles ahead.” So, the other items the Lord mentioned… those were metaphorical as well?
You have to stretch the text to make it mean that. You really do. Why so many people fail to see that is either because they are taking the teaching of someone else at face value without investigating the matter themselves; or, they have a perspective that won’t allow a reading contrary to their previously held conviction.
Personal bias is a strong motivator. Reading through the various responses in Christianity Today’s abbreviated symposium regarding gun ownership and their use in self-defense illustrates this. Only one respondent was in support of the idea. The rest denied it. Although, one humorously admitted to having a baseball bat beside his bed in case an intruder broke in. I guess bashing in a persons skull with piece of hickory is holier, less sinful, or more loving than pulling the trigger.
In terms of governance…
The 2nd Amendment of the United States Constitution does not guarantee the right to bear arms in America. It acknowledges the right. It seeks to protect the right from any form of civil reform. As the wording of the Amendment states it, “…shall not be infringed.” Meaning, the Civil Government is prohibited from disarming a citizen of the United States. Such an action is beyond their jurisdiction. Only the Lord God has authority to speak here making a determination, as rights are endowed by Him alone.
This too is a key area where so many people—Christians in particular—are downright confused. The citation of Romans 13 is given as proof that the “government” has the right to reform and restrict the use of weapons. Some go so far as to argue that ONLY the “government” has the right to bear arms (Rom 13.4 says a “sword”). But a careful reading of the biblical text highlights a mistaken conception of what “government” is. (By the way, this is why I keep putting “government” in quotations). Romans 13:1 says “…governing authorities…have been instituted by God.” Government is plural. Meaning, there is more than one government that God has ordained to represent Him (this is why those authorities are later on called “servants [deacons/ministers] of God; vv. 4 & 6). Unfortunately, that is not how the text is interpreted, and then applied (taught). Rather than a plural understanding of government, a singular form is emphasized. And then, the arguer concludes that only the “government” has the right to bear and use arms (weapons).
The Bible teaches that there are three main governing bodies ordained by the Lord of Hosts: family, ecclesiastical, civil.3 Each institution has their prospective heads that fall under the leadership of the One Head over all Creation—Jesus Christ. Evidently, a more careful reading of the whole counsel of God is needed on this vital point.
Now, all governing bodies that fall within the three primary institutions are God ordained authorities or authorities instituted by God. The sword represents the power to enforce sanctions against evil doers. In the family, we might call that the rod of the father and mother (cf. Prov 13.24; 22.15; 23-13-14; 29.15). In the church, we might call that the keys of the kingdom to bind and unbind, to gather or cut off—i.e., excommunicate (cf. Matt 16.19; 18.18; John 20.23; e.g., 1 Cor 5.4-5). Finally, in the civil sphere, the sword in the sense of the death penalty or some form of restitution.
The symbol of the sword in Romans 13 is the symbol of judgment.4 All governing institutions (family, ecclesiastical, and civil) are authorized to exercise judgment (to carry out sanctions) against violators of the law. Therefore, the idea that the use of the sword is limited to the State or National governments is incorrect.
But we are talking about authorization to possess and use firearms in a defensive posture, “Who gets that right?” To argue that only the state has that authority is a bit of a stretch because all delegated heads (fathers, overseers, and magistrates) are authorized to uphold the good and punish the evil. What do we call the defense of life if not good? Do fathers have the right to protect their family? Do overseers have a right to protect their flock? Yes, they do. They are given delegated (therefore limited) power to guard the live(s) under their stead, just as the civil authorities are likewise to do for the citizens under their headship.5
In Terms of Beastly Men…
Normally, this would be my pivot point. However, I want to preface what is soon to follow with my observations of David’s testimony to Saul, 1st King of Israel. For, it is in this witness from the young shepherd that we see the inner workings of the self-defense argument.
We would be remiss if we didn’t acknowledge from the start that David’s words to Saul are in response to the death threat given to all the men of fighting age in Israel, including the king, by Goliath the giant of Philistine. David is proving himself an able fighter to his king. This isn’t his first encounter with a beast that is seeking to take the life of another.
First, we see that David identifies both lion and bear as those that mercilessly attacked his flock of sheep. As the shepherd of the flock it was David’s ordained role to protect and provide for the sheep. He was placed in that position by his father Jesse. Therefore, we need to acknowledge that David was a representative head of his father in guarding his father’s flock; a delegated authority.
Second, we must observe David’s response when an aggressor attacked his flock. His primary intention was to save the lamb which was taken. Thus, he would strike a blow against the bear or lion. If the lion or bear attempted to attack further, then David would end their life.
Finally, David makes a vital comparison between Goliath, the giant of Philistine, and the bear or lion that attacked his father’s flock. He notes that both are worthy of death. Though in some sense it might have been said that Goliath was created as an image bearer of God, we must also acknowledge that there is an action that a man (or woman) might take that will forfeit their right to live. Though David charged Goliath in battle his fight was defensive because he did not provoke the fight, Goliath did. Moreover, David had no regard for the life of Goliath, comparing him to a beast rather than a man, because this particular man was threatening to harm and kill another.
My thoughts at this point are this: Was David right or wrong in his motives or actions? Was his testimony flawed? Is the life of a person more or less important than the life of a lamb? Did he err in comparing Goliath—a man—to a beast that needed to be put down (cf. 1 Sam 17.36)?
It seems that I have been reading and writing on this particular topic for quite a while in my spare time. There is no question that I am interested in the subject of self-defense. Not because I’m a violent man. I’m not. What would be preferable to me is a populace less self-absorbed; people who cared more for their neighbor than themselves. I long for the day when “swords are beat into plowshares” as spoken by the prophets of old (see: Isa 2.4; Joel 3.10; Mic 4.3). And as men learn to submit to the rulership of Jesus Christ as their rightful king, that earthly reality will begin to reflect the Prince of Peace.
Think long and hard on that for a moment. Christ is called a Prince of Peace in Scripture (one of His many titles), but only based on the following grounds: 1) crushing His enemies under His feet, 2) or, the surrender of His enemies as they swear allegiance to His name.
The reality is that we live in a sinful world. A world filled with violence where fallen people pursue whatever their hearts desire. Situationally, this leads to attacking any who dares deny what they long for. Confrontation and conflict are a necessary outcome of the world in which we live. A world divided between the sons of God and the sons of man. A world red in tooth and claw. Not because of evolution, but due to sin.
Obvious But Ignored…
There are people that hate guns. They see them as evil, wicked, and they conclude that the world would be better without them. But guns like swords are tools. They are tools that fit a particular niche and are to be used for a specific purpose. The gun is no more evil than a hammer. And yet, both of them can be used to violently assault an image bearer of God. In the same vein, both tools can be used for good. You’ve heard the argument before (because its TRUE): Guns don’t kill people, people do. The intent of the user is what determines whether a tool is used for good or evil. Period.
Whittling Down the Argument…
Is it good to protect life? God thinks so. His Holy Bible verifies this.
“Rescue those being taken off to death, and save those stumbling toward slaughter” (Prov 24.11; HCSB).
Self-defense, whether it be armed or unarmed, is an act that seeks to preserve life; to protect it. When we whittle down the argument to its base that is what we are left with. It is the positive side of the prohibition “Thou shall not kill” (Exod 20.13). Unfortunately, people are not asking the question—“Is it good to protect life?”, when the subject is entertained. Or, they are going to great lengths to ignore it. Why? Because all people to varying degrees know in their hearts that protecting life is a good work; a noble pursuit; a righteous endeavor. And so, no small amount of effort is devoted to skirting the issue in another direction.
Take your pick of biblical histories and see if other believers in the past thought that protecting life was a good thing. Abraham thought it was. So did Moses. And Joshua. Not to mention Jephthah or Samuel. What about Jonathan? We’ve already seen David’s response. Need we speak of Nehemiah or Mordecai? Leaders who sought to arm their own people against evil doers who wanted to harm, even kill them.
The problem we face today is an imbalanced understanding of biblical teaching. The majority of the pacifists or the anti-gun influencers who call themselves Christians only read one portion of their Bible in order to support their view. They have a truncated Christian ethic because they do not consider the whole counsel of God worthy of their attention. Perhaps I should word that last part a bit differently. It is not that they find the Old Testament unworthy of their time or attention, but they fail to see, or refuse to believe, its applicability for all of life.
And yet, our Lord rebuked our predecessors for failing to understand all that the Scriptures teach. Jesus, like Paul after Him, emphasized the Old Testament as laying the groundwork for truly understanding our faith (cf. Luke 24.25; 2 Tim 3.16-17; also 1 Cor 10.11). Which brings me to the final leg of my discussion. Why I believe in armed defense and the 2nd Amendment as an inalienable right.
In the beginning…
I owe a debt of gratitude for Ken Ham and his teaching ministry through Answers in Genesis. It was during the summer of 2005 that my eyes were opened to a truth I’d never heard taught before in all my years of attending church. The first eleven chapters of Genesis—the book of beginnings—lays the ground work for the entire Christian (biblical) faith. Every doctrine in Scripture is taught either directly or indirectly in the early part of that book.
We learn of creation, its order, the foundation for a week, what constitutes a Sabbath, the purpose of mankind, their intended function on the earth, their intended relationship with the Creator, the definition of good and evil, what constitutes sin, what sort of judgment sin invites, the true meaning of death, the reason for clothes, what is required for God to accept our works, the reason for why the earth is in the condition it is, the depths of depravity, the sovereignty of God and His providence, justification by faith, election, the reason for different cultures and languages, what actually makes sense of the fossil record and the different kinds of animals, etc., etc., etc.
We could go on and on, but that should suffice. Some may think of other doctrines. On the other hand, others might think my conclusions are inaccurate. That’s fine. You do the searching. Or, ask a question. But my focus in this lengthy conversation dear reader is on self-defense, or if you prefer, the protection of life. For we shall find that it too is rooted in the beginning of God’s Holy Book.
God placed the man in the garden and He tasked him with certain duties. Those duties fell under the overarching purpose of man’s creation to work6 for God. To bear His image throughout creation. To glory and praise and worship and adore his Maker with all his might, this is the primary focus of man’s being. This was to be taught to his wife (soon in coming) and later on his children (not too far down the road). What were the duties?
“The Lord God took the man and placed him in the Garden of Eden in order to have him work it and guard it” (Gen 2.15; ISV; emphasis mine).
The first term (Heb, ‘abad, עָבַד ) rendered “work” as a duty of man may also be translated as “dress,” “tend,” “serve,” and “cultivate.” The second term (Heb, shamar, שָׁמַר ) rendered “guard” may also be translated as “keep,” “watch over,” “take care of.” Allen P. Ross explains the significance of these two words in his commentary on the book of Genesis. He writes,
“These two verbs are used through the Pentateuch for spiritual service. ‘Keep’ (shamar) is used for keeping the commandments and taking heed to obey God’s Word; ‘serve’ (‘abad) describes the worship and service of the Lord, the highest privilege a person can have. Whatever activity the man was to engage in the garden… it was described in terms of spiritual service to the Lord.”7
It is no accident that immediately following the prescription of man’s duties to the Lord in the garden—duties to be exercised on this earth in history—that the first law of God was given. God told Adam that he was free to eat of all the trees in the garden save one, the tree of Knowledge of good and evil (Gen 2.16). Eat from that tree and death would be ushered into God’s very good creation (Gen 2.17). Adam was to serve the Lord by heeding His Law-Word. To “keep” can also mean to build a hedge around. Adam was to preserve life by jealously guarding the Word of God entrusted to him. At all costs. If we wonder what that sort of religious zeal looks like one biblical example aptly displays it.
Guarding the way of life…
In Numbers 25, we have the grandson of Aaron the high priest of Israel, Phinehas taking a spear and running it through a defiant Israelite and his Midianite whore during their act of copulation (cf. Num 25.1-9). God was pleased with the manner in which Phinehas “kept” or “guarded” the commandment of the Lord (Num 25.10). A similar event is recorded earlier in Israel’s history. This particular incident was brought on by the golden calf at the foot of the mountain while Moses communed with the Lord receiving the commandments of God engraved on stone tablets (see Exod 32.1-5, 22-24). After destroying the idols, Moses gives the following command:
“Then Moses stood in the gate of the camp and said, ‘Who is on the Lord’s side? Come to me.’ And all the sons of Levi gathered around him. And he said to them, ‘Thus says the Lord God of Israel, ‘Put your sword on your side each of you, and go to and fro from gate to gate throughout the camp, and each of you kill his brother and his companion and his neighbor.’ And the sons of Levi did according to the word of Moses. And that day about three thousand men of the people fell” (Exod 32.26-28; ESV).
My point? That those who loved the Lord took seriously the charge of “guarding” or “keeping” the Law-Word of God. Both acts protected life by eliminating evil antagonists. Had Adam had a similar response in the garden towards the serpent who was attacking his wife with lies and deceit in order to kill, then things would have ended differently. However, he refused to act for selfish reasons.
Thankfully, God has men like Phinehas and Moses and David. Men who are willing to act in accordance with God’s Law-Word. Men who are zealous guardians of the truth. Had Phinehas or Moses refused to act how many more would have died as a result? How many lambs would have died had David refused to be a life preserver against lions or bears? How many Israelites would have died at the hand of the Philistinian beasts if he’d not taken it upon himself to be their protector?
How many lose their lives because of the pietistic principles that are rooted in a humanistic understanding of what is holy, good and acceptable, rather than a Holy Spirit driven comprehension derived from the Word of God?
What I am arguing for is this. Armed defense is not only lawful under God’s stead it is authorized under certain conditions. We are charged with protecting and preserving life. In fact, that is the essence of the death penalty given in Scripture: to purge the evil from our society, to keep others from daring to do what ought not be done (cf. Deut 13.5; 17.7, 12; 19.13, 19; 21.9, 21; 22.21-22, 24; 24.7).
It doesn’t matter if the person armed uses a gun, baseball bat, frying pan, or knife, the use of lethal force is not unlawful in God’s eyes, but the matter must be weighed properly before acting if possible. What I mean is this. If a person breaks into your home at night in the dark and in an effort to protect your spouse and children you slay the intruder, then there is no guilt for what you’ve done. If a person strikes you on the back of the head while walking down the street and your defend yourself with hands or weapons, and in the tussle that person is harmed and dies from the wounds, you are not guilty.
Context matters. Some situations are too fast paced to think clearly. Some situations negate the opportunity to flee, which is preferred in many cases. However, know that God knows your heart—seeing motives that others cannot—and so, it is before Him that you will either be justified or condemned for how you behaved. But as for me, my concern for the reader is that you understand there are some situations where fighting to live or to guard life is not only permissible but recommended.
I believe that Genesis 2:15 lays the groundwork for this belief. I think the rest of our Bible attests to this fact. Do not let others tell you otherwise without having weighed the matter in light of Scripture.
As James B. Jordan points out,
“Always realize, though, that the man who attacks you, or your wife, has forfeited all his rights to ‘fair’ treatment… the Bible teaches us to avoid all fighting, and to suppress it. Only in the case of a direct threat to one’s person or property, when an appeal to arbitration is not possible, is fighting permissible (Ex. 22:2).”8
Thanks for reading….
1Paul Carter, “Did Jesus Tell His Disciples to Buy Swords?” The Gospel Coalition: Canadian Edition, December 9, 2017, https://ca.thegospelcoalition.org/columns/ad-fontes/jesus-tell-disciples-buy-swords/. Emphasis mine.
2Edric Sng (Singapore) in “Should Christians Own Guns for Self-Defense? A Global Snapshot,” Morgan Lee, compiler, October 10, 2022, Christianity Today, https://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2022/october-web-only/guns-christians-self-defense-mass-shootings-protection.html.
3Also known as “covenantal institutions.”
4I want to be clear here. Although the sword is no doubt a symbol of judgment in Romans 13, it does not mitigate against the use of a real sword for those in civil office. The sword for the civil office is a symbol of life and death. Death to the one who goes against the edicts prescribed in the law, where the civil authority acts as God’s vengeance taker. But also, life to the one who is a good (godly) citizen. The role of the civil authority is to protect the good (godly) in society, to help nurture their development culturally by ridding the community of evil in its midst.
5All of this talk of governance is prefaced on the grounds of self-government. We are taught in Scripture to guard how we live our own lives. We are instructed to humble ourselves before the Creator God and those delegated authorities above us. As Gary DeMar puts it,
“Self-government is synonymous with self control. A self-governed individual is someone who can regulate his attitudes and actions without the need for eternal coercion… A self-governed individual obeys the law of God from the heart….” Gary DeMar, God and Government: A Biblical, Historical, and Constitutional Perspective (Powder Springs, GA: American Vision, 2011), 12, 13.
It is the grace of God established in Jesus Christ that all men might be saved from a rebellious spirit. God the Holy Spirit, because of Christ’s atoning work, enables us to love God and neighbor because the Law of our Lord is etched into the depths of our heart. Through which, God is
“…training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age…” (Titus 2.12; ESV).
6Gary North writes, “Man’s work is fundamental to his very being.” Gary North, The Dominion Covenant: Genesis, An Economic Commentary of the Bible, Vol 1, Revised (Tyler, TX: The Institute for Christian Economics, 1987), 85, PDF e-book.
7Allen P. Ross, Creation & Blessing: A Guide to the Study and Exposition of Genesis (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 1997), 124.
8James B. Jordan, The Law of the Covenant: An Exposition of Exodus 21-23 (Tyler, TX: Institute for Christian Economics, 1984), 112, PDF e-book.