We might wish for more clear texts in the New Testament that are addressed explicitly to the question of self-defense. But since we do not have such data without forcing texts to discuss matters they are not intended to address, a Christian perspective of the question of self-defense must be more indirect. Thus, we shift now from exegesis to an analysis of the social, theological, and ethical concerns.
We will first address some of the concerns of contemporary American society and note implications of the American social setting. These issues are today discussed almost entirely in terms of defensive weapons, most commonly handguns, though any lethal weapons (knives, long guns, etc.) are relevant.
Luke 22:35, 36, and 38 are the only direct New Testament statements about self-defense. Jesus had previously sent His followers on various missions with instructions regarding what provisions and equipment they were allowed to take with them. In sending out the Twelve, He permitted no staff, bag, bread, money, or extra shirt (Luke 9:3). When He sent out the Seventy, He disallowed purse, bag, and sandals (Luke 10:4). These were not, however, intended as permanent, normative commands for all believers for all time. That is clear since Jesus contrasts these earlier restrictions with what would be necessary after the Crucifixion.
In Luke 22:35, 36, and 38 Jesus explicitly commands His followers to take the sort of provisions they were previously asked to leave at home: “He who has a money bag, let him take it, and likewise a knapsack” (v. 36a). But now a new item is added to the list. They are told to buy a sword (machaira), even if they have to sell their cloak to do so (v. 36b). This was not a butter knife for their bread or a paring knife for peeling apples. The machaira was, as BDAG (Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament) defines it, “a relatively short sword or other instrument, sword, dagger,” which is most commonly referenced in the New Testament as an instrument for killing (e.g., Mark 14:43; Luke 21:24; Acts 12:2; 16:27; Heb. 11:37; Rev. 13:10).
From Baptist Bulletin, March/April 2016, used by permission. All rights reserved.
A foreign nation launches an unprovoked military attack on another country for the purpose of gaining control of valuable natural resources or to gain control of a strategic military position. This is not the threat of such an attack, but an actual invasion in which force is being used and people are being killed. Do the people of the nation under attack have the right to defend themselves with military force even if that means many of the invaders will be killed? May Christians serve in the military and participate in such deadly force?
What if the Christian is a civilian? In which of the following situations, if any, would you consider it acceptable or appropriate for a Christian to exercise lethal force or to condone such force by a fellow Christian?
"[S]tudents at another Christian university—Wheaton College in Wheaton, Ill.—say Falwell’s position does not represent Christian ideals. In an open letter to evangelical leaders, a coalition of Wheaton students condemned Falwell’s remarks, saying they were responding to 'religious oppression or violence' with fear instead of love." WORLD
Under OT law, it was expressly permitted to the inhabitant of a dwelling to defend hearth and home if necessary by lethal (death-causing) force against an intruder, without penalty: “If a thief is caught in the act of breaking in, and he is beaten to death, no one is guilty of bloodshed,” (HCSB, Exodus 22:2). But does the NT believer, under grace, have this same right? Some would affirm, and strongly, that we do not. Pacifism and non-resistance has been a professed doctrine of a number of Christian groups over the centuries. One thinks immediately of the Anabaptists, Amish, Mennonites, Grace Brethren, and Quakers. But are they correct in embracing this understanding of NT teaching?
James, a son of Mary and Joseph, was the leader of the congregation in Jerusalem, indeed a veritable “pillar” in the church (Galatians 2:9), and wrote what is by consensus the earliest book in the New Testament, the epistle of James, credibly assigned a date before 50 A.D. James 5:7 characterizes the victimized righteous man who suffers wrong at the hand of a wealthy man as one who “does not resist you.” Is this merely descriptive of how the individual acted in this specific case (that is, giving no cause for the violent man to act as he did), or is it exemplary, even prescriptive as a guide for our conduct, that is, presenting us with an example we are obliged to emulate?