Posted in self-defense

Purchasing Swords to What End? The Second Half…

But now, whoever has a money belt is to take it along, likewise also a bag, and a whoever has no sword is to sell his cloak and buy one…They said, ‘Lord, look, here are two swords.’ And He said to them, ‘It is enough.’” (Luke 22.36, 38; NASB).1

INTRODUCTION:

So did Jesus tell His disciples to purchase swords because He was teaching a deeper spiritual truth about being prepared to fight demonic teachings in their near future? The correct understanding of purchasing swords is spiritual, not physical; metaphorical, not literal? Is that how we are supposed to understand Luke 22:36, 38?

How far do we need to go in order to draw the right conclusion? Is the only way to determine Jesus’ meaning (spiritual or physical, metaphorical or literal) is by going outside of this text? Were the disciples just too dense to figure out the true meaning of Jesus’ instruction?

My argument near the close of my last post was that the answer is right before our eyes. Jesus is giving His disciples instructions before He partakes of the cup (cf. Luke 22.42) that His Father in heaven had prepared: “[to] be numbered with the transgressors” (Luke 22.37; ESV).

Jesus calls to their attention the manner in which He had previously sent them (see Luke 9.3; 10.4) and then, contrasts it with how things will be in their near future. “But now…” (v. 36) serves as a point of difference; “last time you brought nothing,” Jesus says, “but this time you will bring the following…and if you don’t have this item (a sword) then you should sell your cloak and buy one if you can.”

But what of verse 38? Some argue that Jesus’ statement, “It is enough” after the disciples tell Him they have two swords already, is demonstrative of a rebuke by the Lord. But, the phrase can also be translated “It is sufficient.” Meaning, “you have enough for now,” or “that will do.” I find this more acceptable than the more commonly accepted “We are done talking about this! (since you’re not really getting My intent).” You have to assume a rebuke for the language of the text does not imply anything more than a simple declarative response by our Lord. However, to draw support for the supposition that Jesus must rebuke His disciples because they are too slow in understanding Him about purchasing swords (spiritual rather than literal), many will turn their audiences’ attention to Matthew 26:52.

A Brief Look at Matthew 26:48-54

Although it will be lengthier I will cite a larger portion of the passage in order to provide context for the reader:

Now he who was betraying Him gave them a sign previously, saying, ‘Whomever I kiss, He is the one; arrest Him.’ And immediately Judas [Iscariot] went up to Jesus and said, ‘Greetings, Rabbi!’ and kissed Him. But Jesus said to him, ‘Friend, do what you have come for.’ Then they came and laid hands on Jesus and arrested Him. And behold, one of those who were with Jesus reached and drew his sword, and struck the slave of the high priest and cut off his ear. Then Jesus said to him, ‘Put your sword back into its place; for all those who take up the sword will perish by the sword. Or do you think that I cannot appeal to My Father, and He will at once put at My disposal more than twelve legions of angels? How then would the Scriptures be fulfilled, which say that it must happen this way?” (Matt 26:48-54).

Verses 48-50 show that Judas Iscariot, along with a mob of armed men (cf. Matt 26.55), betrayed Jesus, his former teacher (rabbi), having Him arrested. Verse 51 highlights the response of one of His disciples in reaction to the events as they unfold around them. Verse 52-53 reveals Jesus’ rebuke of the disciple. Verse 54 shows that the concern of the Lord is that God’s Word is upheld regardless of how mankind may view it. Obviously, the key text for our current discussion is Matthew 26:52, but the key part in determining the meaning is accomplished through observation. The surrounding details are vital to a proper understanding.

The reason for the rebuke…

"Then Jesus said to him, 'Put your sword back in its place; for all those who take up the sword will perish by the sword" (Matt 26.52; emphasis added).

Here we see the Lord rebuking one of His disciples for cutting the ear of “the slave of the high priest” (Matt 26.51). What we are looking for is the reason for the rebuke? A couple of quick points before we attempt to see the flow of thought here. First, notice that Jesus tells His disciple (Peter according to John 18.11) to put the sword “back in its place.” He doesn’t tell him to get rid of it. He doesn’t say there is no value to it, but He does indicate that now is not the time a sword is to be used. Second, Jesus is specific in saying that it is those who “take up” the sword who will, in time, fall by it. As I have stated before in previous posts related to this issue, life is sacred and it is not to be taken lightly. Jesus’ reminder here points us back to Genesis 9:5-6. As a general rule violence is not the path that God’s people take.2 There are mitigating circumstances3 when this general rule does not apply, when the preservation of life may require such action, but not here.

What transpired during Jesus’ arrest…

Before Peter (John 18.11) pulled the sword out of its sheathe and attacked those who came to arrest his Master (Matt 26.51; Luke 22.50), the disciples asked a quick question: “Lord shall we strike with the sword?” (Luke 22.49). Unfortunately, they didn’t wait for an answer. Or, at least Peter didn’t. He jumped the gun, even though, you can understand why he reacted in such a way from a human standpoint. Those that came to arrest Jesus in the garden were armed to the teeth. The Lord even challenged them, saying,

"Have you come out with swords and clubs to arrest Me, as you would against a man inciting a revolt? Every day I was with you within the temple grounds teaching, and you did not arrest Me…" (Mark 14.48; also Matt 26.55).

Before He did that, though, He rebuked Peter and healed the wounded man (Luke 22:50). Then Jesus commands His disciple to put the sword back, offers a reminder of the general rule against wielding the sword (Matt 26.52), adding the following statement:

"Or do you think that I cannot appeal to My Father, and He will at once put at My disposal more than twelve legions of angels? [But] How then would the Scriptures be fulfilled, which say that it must happen this way?" (Matt 26.53-54).

A Few Questions

Did Jesus’ comments in Matthew 26:52 to Peter and the rest of the disciples standing there mean that all uses of the sword (physically) speaking were forbidden? Is the pacifist right that a true follower of Jesus should never act violently towards attackers?4 Does the Lord’s rebuke (Matt 26.52) add further support to the idea that He was only speaking of purchasing swords in a metaphorical sense, not a literal one?

Let me answer those in reverse.

Purchasing Swords in a Metaphorical Sense…

According to Albert Barnes, Jesus words in Luke 22:36

“…were not made with reference to his being taken in the garden, but with reference to their future life…They were going into the midst of dangers. The country was infested with robbers and wild beasts. It was customary to go armed. He tells them of those dangers—of the necessity of being prepared in the usual way to meet them.”5

In other words, appealing to what transpired in the garden as grounds for denying that Jesus did tell them that in the days ahead a sword may be necessary, in the sense of defense, is uncalled for. Though the passages are near one another, Jesus telling Peter to put his sword away is not an endorsement of a figurative understanding of the Lord’s earlier words.

Pacifistic correction…

Would you be surprised to learn that it was customary for people in the 1st-century to go about armed as they traveled? Thus our tradition here in the United States to be armed in the home or on the road traveling is not a historic anomaly. As one author’s astute observation puts it:

“Jesus knew very well His disciples had weapons, for He was with them for three years. Christ allowed His followers to pack weapons…He never corrected [them] because [they] didn’t need [to be] corrected.”6

Is the physical use of a Sword forbidden?

The comments of our Lord telling His disciple to “put the sword away” followed by the proverbial truth, “for all those who take up the sword will perish by the sword” was not an indictment against the use of the sword in all circumstances (see note #2). The issue at that moment was that it was God’s will that Jesus be arrested. As a recitation of Zechariah 13:7 verifies,

"'Awake, sword, against My Shepherd, and against the Man, My associate,' declares the Lord of armies. 'Strike the Shepherd and the sheep will be scattered; and I will turn My hand against the little ones.'" (cited in Matt 26.31; Mark 14.27).

It was the explicit purpose of God that Jesus is taken that night, that He is crucified as a substitute for His people, and that after His resurrection He might draw those that were given to Him into His fold. Jesus is the Shepherd that was struck, and His disciples were the sheep that were meant to flee, and it was in demonstration of God’s power (i.e., hand) against those who were defiling His land (earth).

Notice what Jesus says after He tells His disciple (Peter) to put the sword back in its sheathe. He explains that if He so willed to fight at that moment a myriad of angels were at His disposal to eliminate His foes (Matt 26.53). Those are not the words of a pacifist. But they were the words of One who desired that all Scripture be fulfilled (Matt 26.54). Since it was God’s purpose for our Christ to die in order to be raised, then so be it. Jesus desired that the Father’s will be done. Instead of being saved from the cup of divine wrath, He was about to partake of, in Love (Matt 26.42; Luke 22.42).

What’s my point? That the circumstance determines the action. There are times when the use of the sword is not wrong, contrary to those who argue that Matthew 26:52 nullifies the self-defense position. Armed defense, whether it be with a sword, a club, or a gun is allowable in certain situations. The taking of another’s life is a worst-case scenario, one that should not be looked forward to with excitement but disdain. Luke 22:35-38 authorizes the use of the sword to the disciples of Christ as a deterrent from harm in the pursuit of the preservation of life. Matthew 26:52 does not counter Jesus’ instructions there, nor does it make the use of the sword metaphorical. As I’ve already stated, “circumstances determine action.” There will be times when the use of the sword spiritually speaking is warranted, and there will be times when the use of the sword physically speaking is justified. Wisdom based on the knowledge of God is the standard by which we are to make such determinations.

In some forthcoming posts, I will be critiquing the writing of a popular Evangelical pastor—John Piper. The article is a bit dated (2015), but his various points are popularly held by many within the Christian context. My goal in writing the critique is not personal. I’m not attacking anyone’s faith, rather I am attempting to reason through the arguments he presents to see if they hold any validity. It is my hope that this forthcoming article and others along this same genre are of some benefit to those who read them. Until then, God bless.

ENDNOTES:

1All Scripture unless otherwise noted shall be of the New American Standard Bible, 2020 update (NASB).

2John Calvin asserts the following:

“But here a question arises. Is it never lawful to use violence in repelling unjust violence? …First we must make a distinction between a civil court and the court of conscience; for if any man resists a robber he will not be liable to public punishment, because the laws arm him against one who is the common enemy of mankind. Thus, in every case when defense is made against unjust violence, the punishment which God enjoins earthly judges to carry into execution ceases. And yet it is not the mere goodness of the cause that acquits the conscience from guilt, unless there be also pure affection. So then, in order that a many may properly and lawfully defend himself, he must first lay aside excessive wrath, and hatred, and desire of revenge, and all irregular sallies [outburst] of passion, that nothing tempestuous may mingle with the defense. As this is of rare occurrence, or rather, as it scarcely ever happens, Christ properly reminds his people of the general rule, that they should entirely abstain from using the sword.”

In other words, self-defense is the last resort and the taking of life is to be avoided if possible. But as Calvin notes the Law of God does not forbid it altogether. John Calvin, The Complete Biblical Commentary Collection of John Calvin: Commentary on a Harmony of the Evangelists, Matthew, Mark, and Luke, William Pringle, translator, Kindle Edition, loc 395867-75.

3“Thou shall not kill” (Exodus 20.13) is pretty straightforward, but there are exceptions. Based on the ninth commandment’s prohibition against lying—“Do not give false testimony against your neighbor” (Exod 20.16), most would agree it is likewise straightforward, but there are exceptions to this one as well. Two examples may be given where lying was not only allowed but praised by the Lord God: The Hebrew midwives in protecting the male offspring of birthing mothers while in Egypt (Exod 1.15-21); Rahab the prostitute in misleading the king of Jericho about the whereabouts of Joshua’s spies (Josh 2.1-7; 6.25). Based on the ethical teachings in Scripture, we should not be surprised to learn that there are exceptions to “killing” as well. Bear in mind that the taking of life must be investigated by the civil authorities over us in order to determine whether or not the killing was justified or accidental (cf. Numbers 35:9-34).

4D. A. Carson, The Expositor’s Bible Commentary with New International Version: Matthew, Mark, and Luke, Vol 8, Frank E. Gaebelein, ed. (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing, 1984), 547-48. Carson notes the following attitudes regarding Jesus’ words to His disciples, “Some take Jesus’ response—’for all who draw the sword will die by the sword’ (v. 52)—as a call to pacifism, whereas others observe that Jesus told Peter to put his sword “back in its place,” not throw it away. Both views ask the text of no immediate relevance.”

5Albert Barnes, Notes on the New Testament, Explanatory and Practical (1872), theWord Bible Software, Luke 22:36. Emphasis mine.

6Jeff Robinson, God and Guns: Freedom in a Time of Crisis, (Xlibris, 2012), Kindle Edition, loc 281.

Posted in self-defense, Uncategorized

Purchasing Swords to What End? An Article on Self-Defense in Light of Jesus’ Instruction to His Disciples, Part I

And [Jesus] said to them, ‘But now, whoever has a money belt is to take along, likewise a bag, and whoever has no sword is to sell his cloak and buy one’” (Luke 22.36; NASB).1

Then Jesus said to him, ‘Put your sword back into its place; for all those who take up the sword will perish by the sword’” (Matt 26.52).

INTRODUCTION:

The Eagles had a hit single in 1976 entitled “A New Kid in Town.” That song serves as a semblance of my life growing up. Several times during my adolescent years, I was the new kid in town that everybody was talking about. And it was during this time of my youth I found out the hard way not everyone likes you.

Sometimes this is your fault. Maybe you have a bad attitude, and this leads to diarrhea of the mouth. Not a popular position to be in if you are spewing words in the wrong direction. There is perhaps an unspoken correlation between vulgarity of the mouth and that which spews from down below as both are fit for the refuse pile (i.e., skubalon).2 Talking in such a way to the wrong person will, more than likely, end up bringing about an uncomfortable situation. One where we are left with a little color on our face and a slab of cool meat to ease the swelling; or worse.

Other times, though, living in the fallen world that we do, the dislike of others is not our fault. The fact is some people will enjoy your personage and others will not. This was a lesson I learned early on as a youngster and I have witnessed little change in this reality as I’ve reached adulthood. Most of the time, the dislike of another rarely leads to what some would consider an act of violence (e.g., fist-fight; i.e., conflict). The dilemma, however, was what to do when such activity became unavoidable (e.g., self-defense).

As a result, I had to learn very early that there were times when fighting was the only option. Violence, aggression, combat, war, battles, are not names normally associated with the Christian worldview. I would imagine that many Christian parents loath the idea of their children getting into an altercation with a fellow classmate. No question, peace is to be preferred (cf. Rom 12.18). My wife and I have six children (two of which have grown and left home to start their own lives), and we prefer, I think as all parents do, that they experience a peaceful coexistence with their peers. Alas, this is not always possible. Remember we live in a world filled with sinful, carnal creatures that have a great inability to see things beyond the concerns of self-gratification. According to the biblical worldview, this inevitably leads to various shades of conflict (cf. James 4.1-2).

Therefore, I taught my children the same lesson I learned when I was growing up: “Do not start anything with anyone, but if another attacks you…make sure you finish it.” To be honest, I thought such a life lesson was common sense. Experience, however, has taught me differently. Interactions with other parents and school administrators at various levels have helped me see how difficult the concept of self-defense is in our current cultural climate. Even a significant number of professing Christians display a knee-jerk reaction against it.

A brief explanation…

This has continually left me with a desire to carefully define and articulate the actual position I am advocating for. Though I personally find the process a bit tedious I realize that providing proper categorical qualifications is necessary, for much of the confusion or denial of seeing self-defense as a legitimate response to counter wanton acts of violence or aggression in certain situations is because people do not take the time to critically think through the issue.

Self-defense while appropriate and normative as an act of protection or deterrence, is only practiced (to be applied) in unique cases. Meaning it is something prepared for with the hope that it is never necessary to use. For example, I have spent many years of my life learning various arts of self-defense; boxing, martial arts and some grappling techniques. I have competed in a few competitions with decent results. Many of my children have shared in these experiences personally as my wife and I thought it necessary to teach such things in case the need called for it.

But one of the key aspects of such training is that you don’t want to use it outside of the ring or dojo unless no other option is available to you. The goal is to avoid confrontation at all costs. In fact, one of the first lessons we were taught in Matsubayashi-Ryu (Pine Forest Style, an Okinawan form of Karate also known as Shorin-Ryu) was to avoid conflict3 (to flee) if the opportunity is presented. Not only to protect oneself from injury, but you may have to live with injuring another, perhaps permanently. Lethal force is always a last resort. The same is true with firearm training. You never point your gun at another unless no other alternative presents itself and you never place your finger on the trigger unless you intend to shoot.

Self-defense is not violence, although it uses violence as a form of protection or deterrence. Self-defense, properly defined, is never vengeance but a guarding of life—either yours or another. Predators go for weak prey in the animal kingdom. Unfortunately, there is little difference between human or animal predators. For a human predator is more akin to a beast than a fellow image-bearer.

Biblical justifications…

So far I have sought to be reasonable regarding this issue. (Actually, I have attempted to do this for some time as I have worked through what I believe were pertinent issues raised as a result of the national debate sparked by the Kyle Rittenhouse case). I realize that this topic is a worldview issue, and depending on what a person’s worldview is they will have already drawn their own conclusions regarding it. Contrary to popular opinion, facts and pieces of evidence do not lead a person’s thoughts on a given issue, their presuppositions do. As Greg L. Bahnsen explains,

“The unavoidable fact is…that nobody is a disinterested observer, seeing and interpreting the facts without a set of assumptions and pre-established rules. All men have presuppositional commitments prior to their examination of various hypothesis

Each worldview has its presuppositions about reality [metaphysics], knowledge [epistemology], and ethics [law]; these mutually influence and support each other. There are no facts or uses of reason which are available outside of the interpretive system of basic commitments or assumptions [i.e., presuppositions] which appeals to them; the presuppositions used by Christian and non-Christian determine what they will accept as factual or reasonable, and their respective presuppositions about fact and logic will determine what they say about reality.”4

In short, people are not neutral. They are not neutral when they look at issues. They are not neutral when presented with proofs. Nor are they neutral when they reason (think through) subjects like self-defense. Individuals will have prior commitments that will shade their understanding and limit what they accept as truth. This is true for members of the believing and unbelieving world.

And so, the question is ultimately by what standard do we appeal to in order to decide a matter? Since I am convinced that nothing makes sense of reality besides the revealed Word of God, this is where I go. The Bible lays out the purpose, principles, and justification for the “what and why” of all reality. A point that I have been attempting to make through various posts related to self-defense. In this post, I begin to look at Jesus’ command to His disciples which seems to offer biblical justification for Christians to practice self-defense. In a follow-up post, I will address what many think is a counterclaim to this command.

Figurative or according to the letter?

At the beginning of this post, I cited a couple of biblical texts where Jesus spoke about swords with His disciples. The first text mentioned was Luke 22:36. To avoid confusion let us look at this verse within its surrounding context.

And He said to them, ‘When I sent you out without money belt and bag and sandals, you did not lack anything did you? They said, ‘No, nothing.’ And He said to them, ‘But now, whoever has a money belt is to take it along, likewise also a bag, and whoever has no sword is to sell his cloak and buy one. For I tell you that which is written must be fulfilled in Me: ‘And He was counted with wrongdoers’; for that which refers to Me has its fulfillment.’ They said, ‘Lord, look, here are two swords.’ And He said to them, ‘It is enough.’” (Luke 22.35-38; NASB).5

Notice in this passage, Jesus is telling His disciples what they are to do in the days ahead. For, He compares their former mission with the next one, illustrated by the phrase: “But now…” (Luke 22.36a). Previously, the Lord had sent them out in pairs to share the gospel of peace. At that time they were instructed to carry no “money belt…bag…[or] sandals” (Luke 22.35; cf. Luke 9.3; 10.4). It was a faith-building exercise. They had little to fear, for they were under divine protection. A change was about to occur. Hostilities would increase. They would be venturing outside of their nation (Israel) to other nations. This is not to say that they would no longer be under God’s protection, for Jesus reminds them that they “lacked nothing” in terms of need (Luke 22.35; He does this with the use of a rhetorical question). God provided everything. He would continue to do so. As Abraham said of the Lord God, “He provides” (Gen 22.8, 14).

The training wheels, however, were about to come off. The days ahead, Jesus warns them will be of greater difficulty, and so they need to be prepared.6 He instructs them

But now, whoever has a money belt is to take it along, likewise also a bag, and whoever has no sword is to sell his cloak and buy one" (Luke 22:36; emphasis added).

Many of the commentaries that I read tend to say that Jesus was only speaking about “selling your cloak and buying a sword” in a figurative sense. This is a popular notion among many Christian leaders.7 They secure their interpretation of the text on Jesus’ response here (Luke 22.36, 38) and in the subsequent narrative in the Garden of Gethsemane during His arrest (Matt 26.52). (Later on, we’ll address the one in Matthew, but for now, let’s keep focused on the instructions recorded in Luke.)

In Luke 22:38 Jesus’ disciples respond to His instruction in Luke 22:36 with the following statement, “Lord, look, here are two swords.” To that, the Lord says, “It is enough” (Luke 22.38).8

Supposedly, the idea is to take Jesus’ comments about swords in a figurative sense, or as John Calvin asserts, in a spiritual sense. He wrote,

“It was truly shameful and stupid ignorance, that the disciples, after having been so often informed about bearing the cross, imagine that they must fight with swords of iron…it is evident, at least, that they were so stupid as not to think of a spiritual enemy.”9

I don’t deny that spiritual enemies are real enemies. Nor do I deny that spiritual enemies are to be fought off with the Sword of the Spirit (cf. Eph 6.17; Heb 4.12). If that is what Jesus meant by his early words in Luke 22:36, then I have no problem with it.

Some key questions…

However, if we are going to say that purchasing swords is meant to be taken figuratively to protect oneself from spiritual enemies in the future, then shouldn’t we take “money belts” and “bags” to carry one’s luggage in a figurative sense as well?

I mean, if we are concerned about being consistent.

If, however, the text does not allow for us to take “money belts” and “bags” in a metaphorical sense of just “being prepared for hard times ahead,” then where does it allow for us to go from taking “sword” according to the letter?10

Context takes precedence…

In order to answer these questions, biblical commentators attempt to pin their interpretation of “it is enough” to Jesus’ comments about Peter’s misuse of the sword (cf. John 18.10) in Matthew 26:52. But as we shall see in my next post that is an entirely different context. Jesus’ concern while talking with His disciples is in light of what they shall face after He is “counted with wrongdoers” (Luke 22.37), not during. The purchasing of swords and the selling of cloaks in order to obtain them is post-arrest, not pre-arrest. First, Jesus must be counted with sinners on the cross, and then afterward there would come a time when preservation of life in terms of self-defense would be necessary.

Exegesis is not playing hopscotch, it is dealing with the details available in the text. Exegesis is concerned about drawing the meaning from Scripture rather than reading one’s ideas into it. Luke is the only one that recorded Jesus’ instruction for the disciples to prepare for the dark days ahead by purchasing a sword. He stressed the urgency of it by telling them that if they didn’t have one they should sell their cloak to buy it. A cloak (outer coat) in the 1stcentury world was of paramount importance. It was what protected a person from the elements and gave them something to snuggle in at night. To sell it and buy a sword meant to forfeit one form of protection from danger in light of obtaining another.

I believe that Jesus’ comments in Matthew 26:52 are important. They need to be properly weighed. But they are not necessary for understanding what Jesus says in Luke 22:35-38. For it is my contention that two different matters are being dealt with in those two different passages of Scripture. Something that I will do my best to prove in my next post.

To Be Continued…

ENDNOTES:

1All Scripture shall be of the New American Standard Bible, 2020 Update (NASB); unless otherwise noted.

2According to J. H. Moulton and G. Milligan the apostle Paul’s use of the term skubalon (G4657) “‘Dung,’ [is] the prevailing sense of this word…its original meaning thus would be “refuse” (RV marg.); but ‘dung’ is probably what Paul meant in Phil 3:8, the only occurrence of the word in the NT.” The Vocabulary of the Greek Testament: Illustrated from the Papyri and other Non-Literary Sources (London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1929), 579, PDF E-book.

3Shoshin Nagamine, the founder of this particular style of martial art writes, “Karate ni sente nashi (There is no first attack in karate).” Meaning that karate is not a violent martial art but only one to be practiced in self-defense, a method of preserving life. Shoshin Nagamine, The Essence of Okinawan Karate-Do (Rutland, VT: Charles E. Tuttle, [1976], 1992), 13. Italics in original.

4Greg L. Bahnsen, Presuppositional Apologetics: Stated and Defended, Joel McDurmon, ed. (Powder Springs, GA: American Vision & Covenant Media Press, 2011), 25, 26, PDF E-book. Emphasis added. This will be found under the heading “The Necessity of a Presuppositional Approach.” I include this since the page number may be different depending on what electronic book reader one uses. For example, my copy of this book in my Adobe Digital Editions will show the quoted material above on page 27.

5All Scripture shall be of the New American Standard Bible, 2020 update (NASB).

6This is not fatalistic teaching. Fate does not determine the outcome. The actions of God, the Creator, and man, the creature bring about the causal experiences of life. God provides for His people. This is true. He gives us food, wealth and health (life), but this does not eliminate our responsibility to work and enrich the talents, the tools, He’s given us. Farmers that desire to see a blessing from the Lord must work the ground in accordance with God’s commands. The farmer cannot hope to see a crop yield without working the soil and planting the seed. Laziness will bring him nothing but an empty hand and stomach. This is true of all our endeavors. Salvation is from the Lord (Jonah 2:9), but in order for a person to be saved, we must do the work of proclaiming the gospel of Christ (Rom 10.14-15). God provides but He also instructs us to be prepared for the days ahead, not knowing what they will bring (Prov 27.1; Isa 56.12; James 4.13-16).

7For example, Paul Carter, a contributor to the Canadian version of the Gospel Coalition, denies that Jesus was instructing His followers to sell their cloaks and buy a physical sword. After citing a few biblical commentaries, he writes,

“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, “Did Jesus Tell His Disciples to Buy Swords?” The Gospel Coalition: Canadian Edition, December 9, 2017, accessed February 14, 2022, https://ca.thegospelcoalition.org/columns/ad-fontes/jesus-tell-disciples-buy-swords/.

An unnamed writer for Biblestudy.org states, “It is difficult to imagine Jesus telling his disciples to buy swords, considering that he would soon state the following” comments found in Matt 26:52. A little later and the same writer claims that the Greek term machaira is better understood as a knife according to a popular layman’s Greek to English concordance:

“But in Luke’s 22:38 Strong’s Concordance acknowledges the Greek word machaira (Strong’s #3162) is defined as a knife, dirk or sword…The disciples would need certain provisions [after the Lord’s ascension], including a knife for preparation of food, cutting wood for fuel, and possibly to fend off robbers for which the area was noted. So, once Jesus’ ordeal was over, they should make sure they each had a knife.” The writer then claims that the disciples claimed to have “two knives, and Jesus said, ‘It is enough.’”

“Why did the disciples buy swords?” Bible Study—Newsletter, accessed February 9, 2022,https://www.biblestudy.org/question/why-did-jesus-tell-disciples-to-buy-swords.html.

Another is John Piper, but I will deal with his arguments in the near future.

8Or it could be translated as “it is sufficient.” Interesting that this possible translation of the text is largely ignored by a great number of English Bible versions (translations). Young’s Literal Translation is one of only a couple that I have found that offer “it is sufficient” as a possible rendering. Although, if “sufficient” is what Jesus meant, rather than “enough” as many biblical commentators like to delimit it, this would remove their “figurative” understanding from consideration.

9John Calvin, The Complete Biblical Commentary Collection of John Calvin: Commentary on a Harmony of the Evangelists, Matthew, Mark, and Luke, William Pringle, translator, Kindle Edition, loc 395406. Italics mine. For the moment I will limit my references to this one, penned by one of the greatest lights of the Reformation period.

10Normally the term “literal” would be used. Both “literal” and “letter” mean the same thing. They both emphasize “according to” the “literature” or the use of “language” (i.e., letter) in light of the given context.

Posted in self-defense

Is it Lawful or Appropriate? A Question of Governance Regarding Self-Defense and the Loss of Life

And for your lifeblood I will require a reckoning; from every beast I will require it and from man. From his fellow man I will require a reckoning for the life of man. Whoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed, for God made man in his own image” (Gen 9.5-6; ESV).

The Lord is my rock, my fortress, and my deliverer, my God, my mountain where I seek refuge. My shield, the horn of my salvation, my stronghold, my refuge, and my Savior, You save me from violence. I called to the Lord, who is worthy of praise, and I was saved from my enemies…He trains my hands for war; my arms can bend a bow of bronze…I pursue my enemies and destroy them; I do not turn back until they are wiped out. I wipe them out and crush them, and they do not rise; they fall beneath my feet. You have clothed me with strength for battle; You subdue my adversaries beneath me” (2Sam 22.2b-4, 35, 38-40; HCSB).

INTRODUCTION:

Today we return to the subject of self-defense. In particular, we return to the one caveat that gives people fits regarding it…the taking of the life of another. The sixth commandment: “Thou shall not kill [i.e., murder]” (Exod 20.13) is fairly straightforward in the minds of many. I noted this in my previous post. Taken at face value it appears to mean that “all killing” is wrong or unlawful in the eyes of the Lord. But taking things at face value instead of investigating deeper is what children do, not adults.

There are times when killing is appropriate (cf. Eccl 3.3a). Knowing our biblical history reveals that a lot of killing has been accomplished by the time God writes this commandment on the tablet of stone with His finger (an anthropomorphic expression which means, by His power; comp. Exod 8.19; 24.12; 31.18). A clear indicator that not all killing is deemed unholy.

I’m not sure exactly why this teaching is so offensive to our generation of Christian men and women? Don’t get me wrong I have my suspicions about why this is the case. But let us just state at the outset that I believe the reason is related to our modern generation (perhaps, the last few generations) inability or unwillingness to see the Bible as a unified, cohesive whole. Just like our corporate media here in the US cherry-picks their narratives, many professing Christians cherry-pick their Bibles. On some level, we can’t fault them. They have been taught and in many churches across this nation (at least these are my limited observations) are still be instructed to see the Bible all chopped up in verses. And so, favorite verses are chosen as representative of biblical truth, and yet, unfortunately, they have been ripped out of context. The result is a very shallow comprehension of biblical truth.

To illustrate this to the church I pastor I gave them a test where they were given various biblical terms and they had to choose whether these key-word concepts were “good, evil (bad), or both.” I will admit that Gary DeMar’s book Myths, Lies & Half-Truths gave me the idea. So I can’t claim originality. But, I did develop it further than what he did in his work and I went in a slightly different direction.1 The reactions when the tests were publicly graded and discussed were all across the board. Some were delighted to learn their thinking was in error (an eager student wants to learn and so is not discouraged by a gentle correction) but others were angered and attempted to argue the point.

What I have found is that the same is true when it comes to the matter of self-defense, specifically, when the defense in question leads to the loss of human life. However, if Christians would take the time (and put forth the effort) to study what the Bible actually teaches regarding a specific topic there would be fewer negative knee-jerk reactions to contend with. We must allow God’s Word to determine our thinking in this matter. This is why I pointed out at the closing of my last article that there are exceptions to the rule as seen in Exodus 22:2-3 (pertaining to the thief who breaks in), Exodus 21:12 (when civil authorities are authorized to kill murderers), and in Nehemiah 4:11-14 (when war is justified to protect life and property from another nation/people).

Necessary Safeguard…2

That being said, God does not allow us to wantonly take the life of a fellow creature. His law on this matter pertains to all creatures made by Him. Similarly, He protects animal life from being taken without justification. In short, no one is allowed to kill just because they feel like it.

"And for your lifeblood I will require a reckoning: from every beast I will require it and from man. From his fellow man I will require a reckoning for the life of man. Whoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed, for God made man in his own image" (Gen 9.5-6; ESV).

What do these verses suggest? That whoever takes life without cause, their life will be forfeit. Whether it be a man or an animal. Have you ever wondered why, when a pet kills someone, they put it down? This is why. The Lord God deems it necessary to put a dangerous animal down…just like He does dangerous human beings.3 Though there are many, I will cite two laws to sate the appetite of the curious mind.

"Now if an ox gores a man or a woman to death, the ox shall certainly be stoned and its flesh shall not be eaten; but the owner of the ox shall go unpunished. If however, an ox was previously in the habit of goring and its owner has been warned, yet he does not confine it and it kills a man or a woman, the ox shall be stoned and its owner also shall be put to death" (Exod 21:28-29).
"He who strikes someone so that he dies shall certainly be put to death. Yet if he did not lie in wait for him, but God caused him to fall into his hand, then I will appoint you a place to which you may flee. If, however, someone is enraged against his neighbor, so as to kill him in a cunning way, you are to take him even from my altar, to be put to death" (Exod 21.12.14).

A brief explanation of cited texts:

The first text deals with an animal4, in this case, livestock which was common in Israel at this time as a beast of burden. If the animal proved to be aggressive to the point of causing the death of a human being, then it was necessary to put that animal down. The owner was innocent of the animal’s aggression unless there had been prior cause to warn the owner to be cautious. An animal that had evidenced an aggressive nature in the past was to be put under guard. It was the owner’s responsibility to guard the lives of his neighbor and his animal. Failing to do this, if the animal killed another, would result in the owner’s life being forfeit as well; for he refused to do what was right and was therefore liable.

The only exception to this is found in Exodus 21:30,

If instead a ransom is demanded of him, he can pay a redemption price for his life in the full amount demanded from him” (HCSB).

This is a case of the victims’ desire to be merciful, something God allowed for. Please note it was not the judges’ decision but the decision of the victimized party whether or not mercy was to be shown to the guilty party. The imposition of a fine was what they deemed worthy, rather than the individual’s life, and in this case, a lawful exception was made.

The second text (Exod 21.12, 14) deals with two types of killing. The first we would recognize as murder, the other, from our understanding, would label it manslaughter. Murder is a crime against another human being where they purposefully strike to kill.5 However, as the text points out a person who takes the life of another accidentally (i.e., manslaughter) is not considered a murderer. They were allowed to flee to a city of refugee if the preceding investigation proved that they were not guilty of premeditation (cf. Num 35.24; Deut 13.14; 17.4; 19.18).

But what about accidental death due to negligence? Texts dealing with loose ax heads or not putting a fence up around a dangerous structure on one’s property make you liable if someone was injured or hurt because of your negligence (cf. Deut 19.4-5; 22.8 respectively). Even getting in an altercation where a pregnant woman gets hit and it causes her to prematurely go into labor if that baby is injured or killed whatever happened to the child was required of the attacker who hit her: accident or not doesn’t matter (See: Exod 21:22-24).

Life is sacred. It is a gift from our Creator. Therefore, it is to be protected at all times. This is the meaning of the prohibition announced after the Flood. God was declaring through Noah to the rest of the human race that whoever treated lightly the life of mankind, be it another man or beast, their life was (is) forfeit. To shed the blood of another, which is a figurative way of saying—“ending their life” is to give up the right to life. For God authorizes and requires the use of lethal force against the perpetrator.

And, no, that’s not a contradiction, for as we have seen in just these few examples not all circumstances are equal. The goal of the death penalty (another form of defense in the civil sphere of governance) is the protection of life.6 The sentences were to be carried out swiftly once the court of law had convened and determined the situation appropriately, according to the evidence. Why? Two reasons are given in Scripture. First, so that evil might be purged from the surrounding society. Second, the death penalty served as a deterrent to the other wicked in the community who might be inclined to perpetrate evil. As it is written,

"So you shall eliminate the evil among you. And the rest of the people will hear and be afraid, and will never again do such an evil thing among you. So you shall not show pity: life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, and foot for foot" (Deut 19.19b-21; also see: Deut 13.11; 17.13; 21:21).

Wrapping things up…

The question of defense is a governmental one. An unfortunate reality, however, is the average understanding of government is a narrow one. The majority of the passages cited in this article are taken from the case laws of the Pentateuch. They served as instructions for how the civil sphere was to respond to the behaviors of some to protect society as a whole. In this fashion then, we see the application of the apostle Paul’s words in Romans 13:4,

...be afraid; for it does not bear the sword for nothing; for it is a servant of God, an avenger who brings wrath on the one who practices evil” (NASB).

But is the civil government the only form of government? No. Think about this. To whom were the laws of God written? A nation or a people? A group or the individual? Both. God’s law first applies to the man or woman who is made in His image, and then, it applies to the nation as a whole. Personal government is the sphere where the individual is charged with performing the Law of God in their life. When a person’s behavior is shown to be in rebellion to this standard of holiness all sorts of vile actions are produced. Murder, the wanton taking of the life of another, is one such violation. To strike against another, to end their life without justification is a criminal offense one that aims for the Creator who gave life. One punishable by death.7

Is that the same thing when a person defends their life or the life of another and a loss of life occurs? Is that act of self-defense the same thing as murder? Another related question is this: “Is the civil government the only governing agency authorized to use the sword?” Let us make this a little more relevant to our time: “Is the civil government the only governing agency authorized to bear arms?”

I want to be careful here because it is easy to be misunderstood. I am only speaking about extreme cases. Self-defense may be a daily reality but it is only exercised on rare occasions. But on those rare occasions, as I’ve put it, is it the right of the individual to use such force in the protection of life? Not as an aggressor, but as a defender?

The text of 2Samuel 22 (and others like it) seems to suggest this is correct. Notice in vv. 3-4 that David states the Lord protects him from violence and saves him from his enemies, but later on, in the same Psalm, David also explains that it is God who “trains my hands for war” (v. 35; HCSB). And those later verses explain that David showed no mercy to those who sought his life. What are we to do with this biblical teaching? Do we ignore it? Do we pass it over? Do we rationalize this passage (and others like it) in an effort to delegitimize it? Essentially, placing it on the proverbial shelf, calling it Old, and thus, not worthy of the New?

When next we meet we shall look at a couple of Scriptural passages that have caused no small amount of confusion for Christian commentators, where Jesus offers insight into the questions I’ve been asking.

ENDNOTES:

1For example, Gary DeMar, wrote in his Introduction, “When I was very young, I remember seeing a western on television where a dispute was settled by the answer to a simple Bible question. I can’t tell you anything else about the movie, but that one scene is etched in my mind. Here’s the question: ‘Who cut off Samson’s hair?’ A smile appeared on the man’s face as he confidently responded, ‘Delilah.’ No doubt the majority of people would have given the same answer, and they like the man in the long-forgotten western, would be wrong [it was a man: Judges 16:19].” DeMar continues, “While the Samson and Delilah hair removal story is not a central doctrine of the Christian faith, it does demonstrate that if a misreading of the Bible is passed on as fact, with few people ever checking the text for accuracy, then misinformation or worse (myths, lies and half-truths) becomes a part of the biblical record.” Myths, Lies & Half-Truths: How Misreading the Bible Neutralizes Christians (Powder Springs, GA: American Vision, 2004), xv.

2The reason why safeguards are necessary for the protection of life (both animal and human) is that human beings are violent creatures that love death (cf. Prov 8.36). We live in a fallen world where the wanton taking of a life, be it a human or animal, is a reality. But the warning is given to God’s stewards so that the faithful protect life (sometimes in its preservation, at other times in its removal).

3On this point Gary North writes, “There are no exceptions based on idiocy, temporary insanity, temporary anger, or anything else. Unless it can be proved that the death came as a result of an accident—no premeditation—the criminal is to be executed. The willful shedding of man’s blood must be punished by the civil government by execution.” The Sinai Strategy: Economics and the Ten Commandments (Tyler, TX: Institute for Christian Economics, 1986), 116, PDF E-book.

4The application would go beyond livestock, for the principle in the law is in regards to an animal, even though “ox” is mentioned. Being able to draw the applying principle from the cultural consideration of the period, in which, the text was originally written to a specific audience, is of paramount importance.

5This would likewise apply to those who desired the outcome, participated in some way (like paying for an assassin), or refused to offer aid in the preservation of life (cf. Prov 24.11-12; Lev 19.17; Rom 1.32). Thus, the malicious witness falls under the category of “worthy of death” if they are testifying about a crime supposedly committed where the death penalty is applicable. Say, for example, accusing a man of rape when no rape has been committed. The penalty for rape is death, and so the malicious witness in such a scenario would, when they are found guilty through investigation, be applied to them (cf. Deut 19.16-19).

6In light of Genesis 9:5-6 North explains, “[This passage] explains the nature of the [murder] violation: man’s life is uniquely important to God, since man is made in God’s image. An assault on man is an assault on the image of God. [Moreover,] the clause explains why men, by means of the civil government, are required to execute bloody judgment on murderers. Man is made in the image of God; therefore, as God’s image, mankind can bring judgment in the name of God, the supreme Judge who executes final judgment. Man is God’s agent who exercises God’s delegated authority. He is an agent of the King. He is to exercise dominion over the earth… [as] a royal agent, and as such, he deserves protection.” Ibid., 117.

7This is why Kyle Rittenhouse’s use of a firearm had to be investigated. If he wantonly took the life of another, then he’d have been guilty of murder. However, if it could be proved that he was provoked, fearing for his safety with no other recourse, and was therefore justified in his killing, then he’d be found innocent. Which he was.

Posted in self-defense

Stepping Along a Path of Contention: Further Musings on Self-Defense and the Key Issue that Drives the Debate–The Taking of Another’s Life

Thou shall not kill” (Exod 20:13; KJV).

In the letters the king granted the Jews who were in each and every city the right to assemble and to defend their lives, to destroy, to kill, and eliminate the entire army of people or province which was going to attack them…” (Esther 8:11; NASB).1

INTRODUCTION:

For years, we have been conditioned to think that religion and politics are separate issues. People on both sides of the aisle get nervous, aggravated, and, sometimes, downright disgusted that you dare try to mingle the two supposedly unrelated subjects. In the past, I have found this amusing. There is nothing wrong with being ignorant—to lack knowledge in a given subject. We all fall in that category somewhere along the intellectual line. But it is absolutely disheartening when one refuses to listen, preferring their ignorant bliss over being teachable.

I am soon closing in on nearly two decades of serving in Christian ministry. I have had the privilege of pastoring two rural churches in southeastern Ohio. And so, I have had my fair share of encounters with persons who prefer not to know the truth of a matter. Such individuals dislike having cherished narratives that they hold challenged. They refuse to investigate matters thoroughly, even though it is their responsibility as representatives of Christ.

You may be correct on a given issue but you will never truly know until that issue has been challenged. It used to be taught in scientific inquiry that the goal of the scientific method was the disapproval of a supposed concept. Within a generation, this standard has been removed.

The goal of sciences…

Are you aware that there was a time in the past when Christian theology was called the “queen of the sciences?” Just like most people offhandedly dismiss the idea that politics and faith are interrelated issues, so too is their disdain for the idea that the study of God is truly a scientific endeavor. No, not science in the sense of empirical data gathering. But science in the sense of pursuing knowledge and wisdom. Empirical science is a tool that seeks to gain knowledge and wisdom about the material world. The same is true of theological inquiry, it is the pursuit of knowledge and wisdom about the Maker of heaven and earth and all therein.

Answer to a troubling question…

In case you are wondering where in the heck I’m headed, I’ll let you in on the big reveal. For a few weeks now I have been speaking on issues pertaining to the 2nd Amendment; the right to bear arms, the right to self-defense. Previously I have stated that this is a religious issue. Some may wonder at this: “How is that possible when it is surely a political issue?” This is an important question. One that needs to be carefully weighed and responded to. In particular, it is a question that Christians need to wrestle with and come down on the right side of.

You see, my primary goal is to reach professing Christians—that is my target audience. I’m not opposed to others reading my work, but as a pastor, my goal is the edification of the body of Christ. Many Christians do not see the connection between politics and their faith. Some believe that our citizenship in heaven prevents us from getting entangled in the affairs of this earth. Politics is focused on societal behaviors. However, you need to ask yourself, “What is the governing principle behind one’s political views or the policies that may be enacted upon a society?” Two things need to be understood.

Two things: Politics and Faith…

First, while it is true that we are citizens of heaven, if we are in Christ, another equal truth is established from our faith: we are citizens of this earth. Christians have dual citizenship: in heaven and on earth. And so, since our faith is not meant to be lived under a basket, we need to be concerned about this world (for our children, our children’s children, our children’s children’s children sake, etc., etc.). Furthermore, as Christians it is our responsibility to have concerns about the welfare of others, even beyond the welfare of our families and churches, for we are commanded to love our neighbors; even our enemies. Thus, politics which deals with society, which affects society either positively or negatively, ought to be a Christian’s concern. We are not permitted to say to our neighbors, “Oh, you’re cold…be warm” but give them nothing to warm themselves. Or, “Oh, you’re thirsty…be quenched” but give them nothing to drink. Or, “Oh you’re being robbed, assaulted, infringed upon through unjust taxation (among a list of others things)…” but do nothing to help alleviate the harm being done to them.

But prove yourselves doers of the word, and not just hearers who deceive themselves. For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks at his natural face in a mirror; for once he has looked at himself and gone away, he has immediately forgotten what kind of person he was. But one who has looked intently at the perfect law, the law of freedom, and has continued in it, not having become a forgetful hearer but an active doer, this person will be blessed in what he does… What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him?…if [faith] does not have works, [it] is dead” (James 1.22-25; 2.14, 17).

This leads to the second principle that ought to be carefully considered. What is the foundation or cornerstone—i.e., the governing principle—behind political views and policies that are enacted upon a society? Think about this. What do the various policies meant to curb a society’s behavior entail? They attempt to establish a parameter of right and wrong. Politics seeks to answer ethical questions about life, about the inner workings of a given society. Therefore, politics is never neutral. How can it be, when people are not? Consequently, politics is likewise a religious issue.

We read in Scripture that,

The fool has said in his heart, ‘There is no God’” (Psalm 14.1a).

Does this mean that the fool does not worship anything? Is the fool without religious convictions? No, that is not what the Holy Spirit says. The fool’s denial of God is not a denial of an object of worship or a god to serve, but as seen in the case of atheism (no-god), they worship themselves for they are their own object of worship. Their mind is the determiner of truth, the arbitrator of right and wrong.

So Christian what sort of leader should you prefer to govern the policies of society? One that is founded upon the Word of God, held under the conviction that Christ is Lord over all; or another who pretends that they speak as gods and that they are the messiah of the masses? The Christian faith demands that we defend against all manner of wrong, once it has been sought out and properly identified. Moreover, our faith established the groundwork for self-defense.

Stepping along the path of contention…

How will a father protect his children, the very heritage that the Lord from above has granted him if he lays down his arms of self-defense? Do you not know that a mother bear will, without shame, protect her young cubs from harm? Even when the enemy in question is much larger and stronger than she is, like a male bear?

I pointed out last time that David, the young shepherd, stood against a mighty foe named Goliath as an act of self-defense. He defended himself, his family, his king, and his nation. More importantly, David fought to protect the sacred name of God. A testimony to all the nations that God alone is God:

You come to me with a sword, a spear, and a saber,” says David, “but I come to you in the name of the Lord of armies, the God of the armies of Israel, whom you have defiled. This day the Lord will hand you over to me, and I will strike you and remove your head from you. Then I will give the dead bodies of the army of the Philistines this day to the birds of the sky and the wild animals of the earth, so that all the earth may know that there is a God in Israel, and that this entire assembly may know that the Lord does not save by sword or by spear; for the battle is the Lord’s and He will hand you over to us!” (1Samuel 17.45-47; emphasis added).

Remember that self-defense properly defined is “the act of defending oneself, one’s property, or a close relative.”2 A defender protects, he does not instigate or provoke. While this concept is difficult for some to accept, what seems to be the decisive point of contention is that self-defense sometimes leads to the taking of another human life.

Humanitarian hearts…

Human life is sacred. Do you believe this? Do you think that human lives are precious? Though I wholeheartedly agree with this sentiment, you need to understand that the ONLY reason this is the case is that life is a gift from God. If you believe that life sprung up as a result of random processes (chance) due to some, as of yet unexplained, series of evolutionary actions, then you have no legitimate justification to argue about the dignity of life. Either life is an accident or life is purposeful. The Christian worldview alone accounts for this truth, the only way someone who denies biblical truth can attempt to argue in such a way is to adopt (borrow or steal) from a system of faith that is not their own. However, since all human creatures have been created in the image of God, a common belief will no doubt be held that life is sacred, precious and is worth preserving and protecting.3 Such intellectual schizophrenia is to be expected by rebellious sinners who deny their Creator.

This schizophrenia is visible in many of the arguments surrounding the 2nd Amendment. People on both sides of the aisle will argue that life is precious and must be protected. To do this, it is argued, is to avoid self-defense in the sense of taking another life regardless of the circumstances. It is believed that if dangerous weapons like guns were removed from the public’s grasp, then life would be properly guarded. David Barton highlights this popular attitude. He writes,

“…there is also the subjective, emotional argument. That is, since every individual with any sense of humanity detests seeing families destroyed, innocent children sacrificed, and promising lives snuffed out as a result of gun violence, the argument is advanced that the reducing the number of guns will produce a safer society.”4

The key issue in the debate over self-defense is whether or not an individual has the right to take the life of another. Period. Christians wonder, “If the taking of life is ever right within the confines of the biblical worldview?” Pacifist pastors like John Piper say, “no.” Progressive Christian scholars like David P. Gushee seem to share similar thoughts. Gushee, in his book entitled The Sacredness of Human Life argues,

“Jesus never blessed killing. He died for God’s kingdom but did not kill for it. His disciples understood the centrality of his radical nonviolence and became a nonviolent movement in a violent context of imperial oppression and domination. They rejected and recoiled from every form of killing, from abortion to infanticide to the gladiator games to war to the death penalty. They could not bear to see anyone killed, ‘though justly.’”5

Earlier in the same text, Gushee opined what he evidently believed was an inescapable truth:

“Let us grant that no simple appeal to life’s sacredness can resolve the question whether Christians can support or participate in war… Just-war theory has been pristine only in theory, not where the bodies pile up.”6

If we were to classify the three arguments against taking life under the guise of self-defense they would be as follows: no weapons, no just-killing, no just-war. All three are interrelated in the sense that they desire the preservation of life. Yet, all three fail to discern the nature of reality as it truly is:

“…the intent of man’s heart is evil from his youth…” (Gen 8.21; cf. Gen 6.5).

When Killing Ain’t Wrong, and When it is…

Almost every person that visited a Sunday school at some point in their life (or at least had friends that did?) has heard this biblical text cited. Don’t worry, even if you didn’t go to Sunday school or at least had friends that did, odds are you’ve heard this commandment before. You may have even recited it yourself:

"Thou shall not kill" (Exod 20.13; KJV).

The one who understands this commandment as saying that all forms of killing are wrong will then proceed to explain why the death penalty is wrong, eating animals is not the way to go. To be a Christian and then argue that there are times, in certain situations, where killing is justified is from their point-of-view groundless, hypocritical dribble. Thus, leading to a divided camp in Christendom (that’s Christ’s kingdom for the uninitiated)8 regarding the use of firearms or the self-defense claim.9

But is that what Exodus 20:13 says? “Come on man, can’t you read,” decries the critic, “that’s exactly what it says!” While there is nothing wrong with the King James rendering of the verse, murder would have been a more accurate translation of the Hebrew text for not all killing is unjustified. As the writer of Ecclesiastes explains, there is

"A time to kill…" (Eccl 3.3a).

And a few verses later the writer even says there is

"A time to love and a time to hate; A time for war and a time for peace" (Eccl 3.8).

Mark that! Not all killing is unjustified. In some cases, you would be unjustified in not killing.

So that Bible says that you shouldn’t kill, but then you should kill. O’ how some people love a supposed contradiction. Yeah, that’s right, I said supposed. I say that because it’s true. There is no contradiction here. For, the biblical witness describes and defines when killing is appropriate and when it is not. Scripturally speaking, killing another is justified when practicing self-defense (Exodus 22:2)10; when the civil authorities find one guilty of a crime worthy of death and they have them executed (Exodus 21.12; cf. Lev 24.16); when warring with another nation (people) is justified (Esther 8.11 cited above; cf. 2Samuel 10:12; Nehemiah 4.11-14 ).

This seems to be a good place to stop. We shall investigate the matter further before we move on, and in so doing, we shall see what necessary safeguards the Lord has put in place to prevent the wanton taking of life….

ENDNOTES:

1Unless otherwise noted all scriptural references shall be of the New American Standard Bible, 2020 update (NASB).

2Merriam-Webster Collegiate Dictionary & Thesaurus, 2008 Desktop edition, s.v., “self-defense” def. 2.

3Due to different objects of faith there will be variances in how this is to be understood. A case in point is seen in the argument over abortion (the murder of unborn babies). Both Pro-Choice and Pro-Life advocates will argue that life is precious but the former will not be as consistent as to when life is a truly precious life worth preserving and protecting. For the Pro-Choicer the woman’s autonomy is the most precious aspect of life and it needs to be protected at all costs. The Pro-Lifer believes that both the woman and the child are precious but not at the expense of one or the other; absolute autonomy is therefore rightly rejected.

4David Barton, The Second Amendment: Preserving the Inalienable Right of Individual Protection (Aledo, TX: WallBuilder Press, 2000), Kindle Edition, loc 305-313.

5David P. Gushee, The Sacredness of Human Life: Why an Ancient Biblical Vision is Key to the World’s Future, (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2013), 370-371.

6Ibid., 166. Allow me to put those citations provided by Gushee into context. The first quote above (p. 370-371) is in light of Gushee’s discussion regarding the death penalty. The second quote (p. 166) is in the sixth chapter of his book “Christendom divided against itself: Three Case Studies” where he argues against “war” in a Christian context. To the reader, I will add my thoughts regarding both issues.

8And yes, I am one of those guys that says Christ reigns supreme from heaven on earth and anything in creation—seen or unseen—that fall in between. He is Lord, King, of it all, for ALL authority in heaven and on earth is His by divine right, through sacrificial love, via the power of the Holy Spirit. That is Christ Jesus is the earthly representative of the invisible God. He alone can reveal God for He alone is God, was with God, and shares in the glory of God something no mere creature could do.

9John Piper once said that if a man were assailing his wife rather than violently intervening, he’d call the police and wait. See: John Piper, “Should Christians be Encouraged to Arm Themselves,” Desiring God, December 22, 2015, https://www.desiringgod.org/articles/should-christians-be-encouraged-to-arm-themselves. (Reference point in the article is under heading #8). In a forthcoming post, I will be arguing against the various points Piper uses to substantiate his claim. For it is my conviction that such pacifism while sounding holy, is as unholy as turning a stone into bread so that a hungry man might have a bite to eat. Such pacifism encourages violence, rather than dissuading it. Rather the godly man should play the part of Phineas and run that devil through (cf. Num 25.7-11)!

10The next verse adds further clarity on the intention here. It states, “[But] if the sun has risen on him, there will be guilt for bloodshed on his account” (Exod 22.3a). The idea seems to be that in a more vulnerable state (like in the night) you are not to be held accountable for acting in self-defense; however, if the sun has arisen (meaning you are able to assess the situation more accurately) then you will be held accountable for killing unnecessarily. Restraint should always be used in defense, unless no other option is available.