Allow me to begin by saying that sinful man has and does attempt to use God’s Holy Word to justify some actions that are absolutely contradicted by the same. We (mankind in general) can slice out little slivers of scripture and attempt to use them to justify our ends or means, especially when we believe it’s all about us. Here’s the shocker for some people: it’s not all about you. It is, however, all about Jesus Christ and his plan for each of us. The beauty is that He allows us to choose what we will do. The problem is that often we don’t like dealing with the consequences of our decisions, whatever they may be.
Anyone who has known me, talked to me or read my articles, Facebook posts or similarly understands me and my position, should know that first, last and always I attempt to take a firm stand on the Bible. With this thought in mind, it is imperative that all of the Bible be considered when formulating doctrine. There are historical accounts as well as direct teaching that address the issue of self-defense in scripture. These are found in both the Old and New Testaments, with many, many further examples in secular history.
There are some arguments that I’ve heard over the years against the idea of self-defense, using scripture to attempt to support the position. In the first article of this series I mentioned briefly nonresistance and pacifism, which are similar in some respects, though ultimately not the same. While the primary thrust of my series and my overall conviction is not about these two concepts, I believe that a mention of them and some of the scriptures I’ve heard used to support them may lead to a better biblical understanding of self-defense.
Let me begin by explaining, that rarely, if ever have I heard anyone attempt to use the Bible to justify pacifism. I mention it simply because some people confuse this ideology with the unbiblical doctrine of non-resistance. A quick internet search returns, “Pacifism: the belief that any violence, including war, is unjustifiable under any circumstances, and that all disputes should be settled by peaceful means.” Most pacifists, not only do not believe in violence, but they actively advocate for and often work feverishly to promote non-violence, including self-defense, at any cost. Again, an internet search returns the following: “Nonresistance:
“Ye have heard that it hath been said, An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth: But I say unto you, That ye resist not evil: but whosoever shall smite thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also. And if any man will sue thee at the law, and take away thy coat, let him have thy cloke also. And whosoever shall compel thee to go a mile, go with him twain. Give to him that asketh thee, and from him that would borrow of thee turn not thou away.” Matthew 5:38-42, KJV. This is the premier passage that I have heard/read on the idea of nonresistance. Indeed, the phrase, “resist not evil,” is likely the primary catchphrase used to promote the doctrine.
This passage is found in Jesus’ “Sermon on the Mount,” in Matthew chapters 5-7. In context, this passage is discussing personal insult, not personal injury, violence and self-defense. It is also about the concept of allowing God to mete to persons the judgement due for their actions against us. We are not to take revenge, but leave that up to the true and righteous Judge of the Universe.
If we compare scripture with scripture, utilizing ALL of God’s word, the concept that this passage instructs us to not use whatever means necessary, including “violent” means to defend ourselves cannot be supported. There are indeed instructions in the Bible that show us that men and women used weapons of war and other means to defend themselves against those who intended great bodily harm and death, had they not resisted and overcome them.
Another passage, taken even more out of context is Luke 3:14. Before I quote the text of this verse, I urge you to please take the time to turn to Luke 3, begin reading at verse 1 and see what John the Baptist, the speaker here is saying to his audience. Here is the verse wrongly used to advocate nonresistance: “And the soldiers likewise demanded of him, saying, And what shall we do? And he said unto them, Do violence to no man, neither accuse any falsely; and be content with your wages. Luke 3:14, KJV. Again, the particular phrase used, “do violence to no man,” is taken completely out of proper context. Here is a prime example of the necessity to go to a good concordance and see what the text said in the original language.
The word, violence, as rendered in English had the meaning in Greek to not “shake down,” or “extort” undue financial payment from the civilian population. Another rendering of the word could be interpreting, “stop intimidating for cash payment.” According to many commentaries that I have read, apparently many of the Roman soldiers of this day would use their positions of power and authority to intimidate the civilian population into giving them money, perhaps for “protection” or in order to stop or avoid harassment or physical harm.
The idea that the soldiers were to stop being soldiers because the nature of soldiers is to inflict violence is a total misreading of the context. Luke even tells us that John the Baptist, the one telling the soldiers to stop extorting money from the civilians should, “be content with your wages.” There are two glaringly obvious thoughts here. One, a Roman soldier could not simply quit the Roman army and retain his life. To desert his position was to forfeit his life. The second observation here is, if a Roman soldier was to be content with his wages, what was he being paid for? It’s clear that his pay was for the performance of his duties as a soldier! John was telling the soldiers that they should be content with the pay they received for their work and to stop shaking down the local civilian population for more. In today’s military, there are laws on the books to prosecute pillaging.
There are probably a couple more passages that I have heard or read that some try to use to support their position, but since these are the most common and seem to be the strongest “evidence” for biblical support of pacifism or nonresistance, I won’t take the time to investigate others.
With the next addition, I hope to get into some specific biblical passages that directly address the proper concept of self-defense, which is simply one of the lines of thought of self-preservation. Of course the family, if this happens to be the case, is the logical extension of this concept on a personal level. Thanks for reading, stay tuned.