Unless otherwise noted, all scripture quotations are from The New King James Version.
Crime - even violent crime - is no longer limited to certain countries or big cities. In the resultant climate of fear, many people seek protection by purchasing weapons or learning martial arts. Some governments have enacted laws that give citizens the right to use deadly force to defend themselves. But what does the Bible say? Is a person ever justified in using force to defend himself or his family?
God Hates Violence
The Bible condemns violence and those who resort to it. The psalmist David said regarding Jehovah God: “the wicked and the one who loves violence His soul hates” (Psalm 11:5). God pronounced judgment against several ancient nations, including his own people, because of their violence and bloodshed. (Joel 3:19; Micah 6:12; Nahum 3:1) Even unintentional manslaughter resulting from carelessness was a serious crime under the Law given to Israel (Deuteronomy 22:8).
The Bible exhorts individuals to avoid potential conflicts by pursuing peace every day. Violent struggles often begin with a heated exchange of words. The Bible observes: “Where there is no wood, the fire goes out; And where there is no talebearer, strife ceases” (Proverbs 26:20). Calmness often defuses anger and deflects violent confrontation. The apostle Paul wrote: “If it is possible, as much as depends on you, live peaceably with all men” (Romans 12:18).
When You Are Threatened
Pursuing peace does not guarantee that you will never face violent attack. True worshippers of God throughout history have been victims of violent crime (Genesis 4:8; Job 1:14-15, 17). If a person is confronted by an armed robber, what should he do? Jesus instructed: “But I tell you not to resist an evil person” (Matthew 5:39). He also said: “And from him who takes away your cloak, do not withhold your tunic either” (Luke 6:29). Jesus did not condone use of physical weapons to defend material possessions. If confronted by an armed robber, a wise person will not resist giving up his valuables. Surely, life is far more precious than belongings!
On the other hand, what if a person’s life is threatened by an assailant? A law that God gave to ancient Israel sheds light on this. If a thief was caught in the daytime and was killed, the assailant would be charged with murder. This was evidently because thievery did not carry the death penalty and the thief could have been identified and brought to justice. However, if an intruder was fatally struck at night, the householder could be exonerated because it would be difficult for him to see what the intruder was doing and to ascertain the intentions of the intruder. The householder could reasonably conclude that his family was under threat of harm and take defensive action (Exodus 22:2-3).
The Bible thus indicates that a person may defend himself or his family if physically assaulted. He may ward off blows, restrain the attacker, or even strike a blow to stun or incapacitate him. The intention would be to neutralize the aggression or stop the attack. This being the case, if the aggressor was seriously harmed or killed in such a situation, his death would be accidental and not deliberate.
The Best Protection
Clearly, there are circumstances under which reasonable self-defense is justified. People have a right to protect themselves and their loved ones from aggression and deadly harm. When escape is not possible, there is no Biblical injunction against reasonably defending ourselves. Still, the course of wisdom would be to do our best to avoid situations with a potential for violence (Proverbs 16:32).
The Bible encourages us to “seek peace and pursue it” in all avenues of our life (1 Peter 3:11). This is a practical formula that really contributes to peaceful living.