Self-Defense and the Sermon on the Mount
In his excellent book, The Law of Self Defense: The Indispensable Guide to the Armed Citizen, Andrew Branca says that he’s not sure that the Bible is the “go to” source for self-defense. I would like to respectfully disagree. The Bible is truth, and self-defense, as a basic human right is true. But you will have to remove your Sunday School glasses and look at it with adult eyes.
Let’s start with the classic statement used to support a pacifist lifestyle:
Matthew 5:38 Ye have heard that it hath been said, An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth: 39 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.
Let’s look closer: Verse 38. The “eye for an eye” was a restriction on retaliation. And it was also a statement on proportionality. In self-defense terms, you are NEVER authorized to retaliate. And whatever force you bring to the conflict MUST be proportional to the force used against you. Following this verse just might keep you out of jail. That leads us to:
Verse 39. The verse has NO statement about an enemy’s desire or opportunity to kill you – the attacker is using non-deadly force, in our Savior’s example. While all states will usually allow you to use proportional non-deadly force during an attack, the real difficulties lie in ESCALATION. And escalation is the elephant in the room. To wit: if the conflict starts with an attacker’s use of non-deadly force, but ends up with your use of deadly force, your actions might be seen by a jury to have escalated the fight (i.e. you brought a gun to a fist fight), and you could be in big trouble. Even worse, if you escalate the fight from non-deadly force to deadly force, your attacker now has the right to defend himself with deadly force, and he just might be a little faster or more accurate than you. Bad news will soon be sent to your family. Following this verse just might keep you out of the grave yard.
In fact, Jesus also said to Peter: Put up again thy sword into his place: for all they that take the sword shall perish with the sword. Matthew 26.52
Again, this is not a statement about passivity, but Jesus was indicating that the kingdom of God isn’t advanced with the sword, in fact he is warning us that those who use deadly force in a violent encounter are placing themselves squarely in harm’s way, and liable to all of the possibilities of war – winning or losing.
There are no conclusive statements in the New Testament (or Hebrew Scriptures) which deny or even discourage self-defense. We ARE made in the image of God, and as such, have the right and responsibility to defend our lives, using deadly force, in the face of imminent death or grave bodily harm. But we have also the opportunity to avoid the often negative outcomes which accompany the use of deadly force.
Until Jesus rules this world from Jerusalem with a “rod of iron”, evil men will oppress innocent men. We must sell our coats, if necessary, to buy arms. (Luke 22.36) And we also must practice daily habits of patience, forgiveness, and holding all things loosely.
Then remember,when necessary: front sight, press.