Can Christians Lawfully Own And Use Firearms And Other Weapons For Self-defence?

(Unless otherwise stated, all Bible quotations are from the English Standard Version).

In the Old Testament, killing in self-defence was expressly permitted under the Law. Most Israelites owned weapons of war, and such weapons were used to protect their lives and those of others outside the battlefield. The Mosaic doctrine of eye-for-eye and tooth-for-tooth legitimized retaliation and self-defence among the Jews. Thus, under the Law, it was lawful for God’s people to own and use weapons of war for self-defence, in addition to their use during battle. However, with the abolition of the Law and the Mosaic Covenant, Christians are at a loss with regards to the issue of owning and using firearms and other weapons for self-defence. Now that the Mosaic doctrine of eye-for-eye and tooth-for-tooth has been repudiated, can Christians lawfully possess and use firearms and other weapons for self-defence? This article seeks to answer this question through a careful examination of the New Testament.

In the Gospels, Jesus emphatically abolished the Mosaic doctrine of retaliation, teaching his disciples instead the principles of forgiveness and love for enemy. This was a radical departure from Judaism, which preached love only for neighbors and hatred for one’s enemies. No longer are we to curse those that curse or hurt us; instead, we’re to bless our enemies and pray for those that despitefully use and abuse us. That’s the fundamental difference between Judaism and Christianity. Christianity demonstrates God’s extravagant love that reaches down even to his enemies. That’s the love that brought down Christ from heaven to die in our place in order to reconcile us to God, and that’s the same type of love God expects those he has so redeemed to show unto others who are yet to be saved.

Matthew 5:38-48
You have heard that it was said, An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth. But I say to you, Do not resist the one who is evil. But if anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. And if anyone would sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well. And if anyone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles. Give to the one who begs from you, and do not refuse the one who would borrow from you. You have heard that it was said, You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy. But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.

One thorny issue that sticks out particularly, when talking about self-defence for Christians, is the matter of turning the other cheek when struck. The Lord Jesus Christ told his disciples to turn the other cheek when slapped on one cheek, and to go twice a mile if compelled by an adversary to go one mile. Also, we’re not to resist the one who wants to forcefully take our outer garment, but are to also let him have our inner garment as well. Some interpret this to mean Christians are not to resist anyone attacking them or anyone using force to compel them to do anything contrary to their wish. Such people believe this command automatically forbids Christians from defending themselves when attacked, and therefore precludes ownership and use of firearms by Christians. Is that really what the Lord meant in that passage of the Bible? Let’s analyse the passage in context, to extract the true meaning of Jesus’ warning to his disciples in that portion of Scripture.

A careful analysis of the passage above reveals that the Lord was instructing his disciples on how to behave when confronted with an armed adversary (Israel was under Roman subjugation at this time, and it was common to see armed Roman soldiers oppressing the Jews). For a man without any form of defence, the wise thing to do, when under attack by an armed foe, or when faced with an abusive law-enforcement agent, is to try to be calm and cooperate as much as possible. To resist an armed enemy (when we do not have any weapon of our own, or the training to do so) is an unwise decision that could lead to our untimely death. If slapped by such an adversary, we should not resist or fight back. If the other cheek is required, we should readily offer it. If the attacker demands our outer garment, we should be ready to part even with our inner one. The goal here should be to avoid provoking an armed attacker (when we’re not armed ourselves), for that could induce them to unleash maximum violence on us, which could be lethal. Obeying and cooperating as much as possible is likely to incur less wrath from the attacker, and may save our lives. And that’s really sensible advice!

In another place, Jesus taught his disciples to flee when they’re under persecution in any area. That is to say, when a Christian comes under attack and there’s a safe means of escape, we should not hesitate to use it! Thus, there’s a time to stay put and offer the other cheek in submission (when there’s no safe means of escape), and there’s also a time to flee when a safe means of escape is available. The whole idea is to try to stay alive for as long as possible. Our lives are valuable to God, and we should try to preserve them for as long as possible, in order to fulfill our God-given ministries. We shouldn’t throw our lives away through reckless heroism, but should be wise and calculated when under attack by an armed enemy.

Matthew 10:16-23
Behold, I am sending you out as sheep in the midst of wolves, so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves. Beware of men, for they will deliver you over to courts and flog you in their synagogues, and you will be dragged before governors and kings for my sake, to bear witness before them and the Gentiles. When they deliver you over, do not be anxious how you are to speak or what you are to say, for what you are to say will be given to you in that hour. For it is not you who speak, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you. Brother will deliver brother over to death, and the father his child, and children will rise against parents and have them put to death, and you will be hated by all for my name’s sake. But the one who endures to the end will be saved. When they persecute you in one town, flee to the next, for truly, I say to you, you will not have gone through all the towns of Israel before the Son of Man comes.

Now comes the issue of self-defence. If a Christian is attacked and he has the means to defend himself, is it right for him to do so? Can a Christian own and lawfully use weapons to defend himself against an attacker? To answer these questions, let’s look at another instance where Jesus gave directives to his disciples concerning the owning of swords. At one point in his ministry, the Lord instructed the apostles to sell their possessions and buy swords for themselves. The question is, what were the swords to be used for? They were obviously for self-defence and self-protection! This is so because we see Peter unsheathing his sword in time of distress, and using it to cut off the ear of one of the armed men who came to arrest Jesus (I’m sure the man’s ear wasn’t Peter’s real target; the scoundrel probably was just lucky he lost an ear instead of his head!). Someone will be quick to say Jesus rebuked Peter for using his sword at that time. That’s true. However, Jesus’ rebuke of Peter was not for using his sword in self-defence, but for using it at that particular instance, and against soldiers sent by a lawful authority. Peter was trying to resist the arrest of Jesus by a lawful authority, and that was contrary to what Jesus taught them about submitting to authority. The apostle was also trying to prevent Scripture from being fulfilled (the arrest and crucifixion of Jesus were according to Scripture, and was the mean reason for his incarnation), for which Jesus had chided him several times in the past. To show that Jesus was against Peter’s use of his sword for just that instance, the Lord told his overzealous disciple to put his sword back into its scabbard, not to discard it, for a time might come when it may be useful and can be used lawfully. So, while we may lawfully use our arms against criminals in self-defence, to use them against agents of the state is forbidden.

Luke 22:35-38
And he said to them, When I sent you out with no moneybag or knapsack or sandals, did you lack anything? They said, Nothing. He said to them, But now let the one who has a moneybag take it, and likewise a knapsack. And let the one who has no sword sell his cloak and buy one. For I tell you that this Scripture must be fulfilled in me: And he was numbered with the transgressors. For what is written about me has its fulfillment. And they said, Look, Lord, here are two swords. And he said to them, It is enough.

Matthew 26:48-54
Now the betrayer had given them a sign, saying, The one I will kiss is the man; seize him. And he came up to Jesus at once and said, Greetings, Rabbi! And he kissed him. Jesus said to him, Friend, do what you came to do. Then they came up and laid hands on Jesus and seized him. And behold, one of those who were with Jesus stretched out his hand and drew his sword and struck the servant of the high priest and cut off his ear. Then Jesus said to him, Put your sword back into its place. For all who take the sword will perish by the sword. Do you think that I cannot appeal to my Father, and he will at once send me more than twelve legions of angels? But how then should the Scriptures be fulfilled, that it must be so?

Furthermore, there’s actually an instance in the New Testament where servants of God used deadly weapons, with divine approval, for their protection and defence against a hostile, murderous mob. God’s two witnesses in the book of Revelation released fire from their mouths (a miracle from God) to consume those trying to destroy them. This they did continually until their ministry was over, after which God allowed them to be killed. The releasing of fire from their mouths to destroy those trying to destroy them was definitely a heaven-approved and authorized act of self-defence! If these servants of God were permitted to use fire to kill enemies who were trying to kill them, then Christians can justifiably use firearms to fight off criminals who try to attack and kill them. Someone may say that Jesus rebuked the sons of Zebedee for asking permission to call down fire from heaven to consume the Samaritans who didn’t want Jesus to pass through their land. But, the two scenarios are not the same. The Samaritans weren’t trying to attack Jesus and his disciples; they just didn’t want them to pass through their land. There was therefore no justification for James and John to seek to destroy the Samaritans, unlike the two witnesses in Revelation chapter 11, who are justified in acting the way they did, in defending themselves against those trying to kill them before their ministry was over.

Revelation 11:1-12
Then I was given a measuring rod like a staff, and I was told, Rise and measure the temple of God and the altar and those who worship there, but do not measure the court outside the temple; leave that out, for it is given over to the nations, and they will trample the holy city for forty-two months. And I will grant authority to my two witnesses, and they will prophesy for 1,260 days, clothed in sackcloth. These are the two olive trees and the two lampstands that stand before the Lord of the earth. And if anyone would harm them, fire pours from their mouth and consumes their foes. If anyone would harm them, this is how he is doomed to be killed. They have the power to shut the sky, that no rain may fall during the days of their prophesying, and they have power over the waters to turn them into blood and to strike the earth with every kind of plague, as often as they desire. And when they have finished their testimony, the beast that rises from the bottomless pit will make war on them and conquer them and kill them, and their dead bodies will lie in the street of the great city that symbolically is called Sodom and Egypt, where their Lord was crucified. For three and a half days some from the peoples and tribes and languages and nations will gaze at their dead bodies and refuse to let them be placed in a tomb, and those who dwell on the earth will rejoice over them and make merry and exchange presents, because these two prophets had been a torment to those who dwell on the earth. But after the three and a half days a breath of life from God entered them, and they stood up on their feet, and great fear fell on those who saw them. Then they heard a loud voice from heaven saying to them, Come up here! And they went up to heaven in a cloud, and their enemies watched them.

Luke 9:51-56
And it came to pass, when the time was come that he should be received up, he steadfastly set his face to go to Jerusalem, And sent messengers before his face: and they went, and entered into a village of the Samaritans, to make ready for him. And they did not receive him, because his face was as though he would go to Jerusalem. And when his disciples James and John saw this, they said, Lord, will you that we command fire to come down from heaven, and consume them, even as Elias did? But he turned, and rebuked them, and said, You know not what manner of spirit you are of. For the Son of man is not come to destroy men’s lives, but to save them. And they went to another village (AKJV).

Finally, for those who say Jesus did not fight back or retaliate when he suffered unjustly in the hands of those who assaulted and finally crucified him, let it be said here that Jesus was maltreated by agents of the government, not by lawless criminals. Peter’s admonition to Christians to follow Christ’s footsteps in not fighting back was in relation to submitting to those in authority, not to criminals seeking to terminate our lives unlawfully. We should never resist arrest by those in authority, no matter the circumstances of our arrest (just or unjust). In a democracy, we can go to court to challenge such unlawful arrests, but we shouldn’t resist at the time of arrest, for that could lead to other legal charges, and could cost us our lives. But we can, and should, defend ourselves, if we have the means and training, and if it’s safe to do so, when attacked by criminal elements that are not agents of the state. Therefore, for a Christian, owning and using firearms and other weapons to defend ourselves against criminals is lawful, and it’s supported by the New Testament.

1 Peter 2:13-23
Be subject for the Lord’s sake to every human institution, whether it be to the emperor as supreme, or to governors as sent by him to punish those who do evil and to praise those who do good. For this is the will of God, that by doing good you should put to silence the ignorance of foolish people. Live as people who are free, not using your freedom as a cover-up for evil, but living as servants of God. Honor everyone. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the emperor. Servants, be subject to your masters with all respect, not only to the good and gentle but also to the unjust. For this is a gracious thing, when, mindful of God, one endures sorrows while suffering unjustly. For what credit is it if, when you sin and are beaten for it, you endure? But if when you do good and suffer for it you endure, this is a gracious thing in the sight of God. For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps. He committed no sin, neither was deceit found in his mouth. When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly.

In conclusion, though the Mosaic doctrine of retaliation has been abolished by Jesus Christ, and though we’re to love our enemies, the New Testament does not forbid Christians from owning and using firearms and other weapons for self-defence. As Christians, we’re not to resist those in authority, even when they’re arresting us unlawfully (but we can and should seek redress in court), like Jesus did, but that does not preclude us from resisting attempts by criminals to terminate our lives, if we have the means and the training to do so. Jesus authorized his apostles to own swords for self-defence, and we find God’s witnesses in the book of Revelation releasing fire from their mouths to kill off satanic mobs trying to kill them before their ministry was over. As Christians, our lives are precious to God, and we should take care to protect and preserve them for as long as possible, using all legitimate means, to ensure the enemy does not terminate us and our ministries prematurely.

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Published by Dr Ndubuisi Emmanuel Ojo

Biblical Christianity is a Christian ministry which believes firmly in the original apostolic faith as the only authentic version of Christianity, and the only legitimate basis for Christian conduct, order and doctrine.

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