Question

Is there any scriptural references about self-defense? Specifically justification for taking someone else’s life? 

Answer

There are not “clear-cut” passages that I am aware of which specifically condemn nor allow the taking of a life in self-defense. Consequently, I can only express my opinion on this matter. It is ultimately a matter of individual conscience. But here are some concrete guidelines:

1. The universal principle of life for life is spelled out in Scripture from the earliest times. In Gen. 9:6 reads, “Whoever sheds man’s blood, by man his blood shall be shed, for in the image of God He made man.” The law of capital punishment for murder is based upon man being created in God’s image and by God. It is not man’s prerogative to take a life which belongs to God (even one’s own life!). See also Ezek. 18:4.

2. Under the law of Moses, the death penalty was enacted for murder, but not for accidental death or self-defense. This show that there is an importance attached to the reason that someone’s life is taken. In fact, those who argue against capital punishment on the basis of “Thou shalt not kill” fail to understand that murder is different than execution, self-defense and accidental death.

3. The Christian is not allowed to take his own vengeance when he is wronged. In Romans 12:19–21 we are told, “Never take your own revenge, beloved, but leave room for the wrath of God, for it is written, ‘Vengeance is Mine, I will repay, says the Lord. But if your enemy is hungry, feed him, and if he is thirsty, give him a drink; for in so doing you will heap burning coals upon his head.’ Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” The way in which God renders His vengeance toward evil-doers is through governments, specifically designed for that purpose. This is explained in Romans 13:1–7 where it is required of Christians to be in subjection to these authorities because they exist for the purpose of rendering God’s wrath. This authority does not “bear the sword for nothing” (vs.4). A sword in the Scriptures is always used to represent an instrument of death. Nevertheless, a person who is protecting himself is regarded by nearly all governments as being justified if it is deemed that such action was necessary. In such cases, a Christian would not necessarily regard an intruder as an “enemy” in the sense it is used in chapter 12 (there would be no time or chance to “feed him or cloth him!”). By the way, one sure way to know that civil government and not church government is under discussion in Romans 13, is the phrase in 13:6, “for this reason you pay taxes, for the rulers are servants of God, devoting themselves to this very thing.” Contributions to the church are never considered as “taxes” but rather are free-will offerings (2 Cor. 9:6-7 for example). Nor does the fact that some governments are corrupt and unjust negate the general truth of this statement. Those governments will also be judged.

In my opinion, these are matters of the heart. At the very least, it must be admitted that if one’s intent was without malice, and there was no other option, then before God, taking another’s life in self-defense would not be considered in the same light as murder. There is one more point that is important to realize. To someone who loves God and has given himself to obedience to the gospel of Christ, it is promised that he will never be put in a situation where sin becomes the only option. The way of escape will always be provided. The promise of 1 Cor. 10:13 is important to remember: “No temptation has overtaken you but such as is common to man; and God is faithful, who will n9t allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will provide the way of escape also, that you may be able to endure it.”

By Doug Focht

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