What Does the Bible Say About Self-Defense?

The Bible at times allows for some form of self-defense depending on the situation of the abuse. It is clear that the Bible exhorts believers to endure slander and insults without retaliation.

There are some who suggest that Jesus’ telling his followers to “turn the other cheek” (Matthew 5:38-39) is indicative of the fact that Christians should willingly accept harm without defending themselves. However, when read in context, one can see that Jesus was dealing specifically with retaliation when insulted. Retaliation is different from self-defense in that it seeks to return the attack that was received. Resting assured that God will bring justice (1 Peter 2:23), himself defending the cause of the weak and vulnerable (Deuteronomy 10:18).

With the right disposition of heart, the Bible supports self-defense.

What Does the Bible Say About Self-Defense (KJV)?

“Wherein the king granted the Jews which were in every city to gather themselves together, and to stand for their life, to destroy, to slay, and to cause to perish, all the power of the people and province that would assault them, both little ones and women, and to take the spoil of them for a prey”Esther 8:11

The events described in Esther 8:1-11 speak to the events in which the Jewish exiles in Persia were permitted to defend themselves against any enemy who attempted to harm them. Apart from their self-defense, the preservation of the Jewish people would have been impossible. One may even say that God ordained that self-defense would be the means of their survival and the continuation of his promises in and through the Jews.

“A father of the fatherless, and a judge of the widows, is God in his holy habitation.”Psalm 68:5

In this verse we see that God is the ultimate defender of the weak. Defending those weaker than us, or standing up for ourselves in the face of physical, mental, or spiritual harm is Biblical in that it displays the character and heart of God.

“Defend the poor and fatherless: do justice to the afflicted and needy.”Psalms 82:3

The word here for “defend” (šāp̱aṭ) speaks of ensuring that justice is is received where it is due. In this verse, the Lord commands his people to defend others, to seek the justice of those who are unable to defend themselves.

“But know this, that if the goodman of the house had known in what watch the thief would come, he would have watched, and would not have suffered his house to be broken up. Therefore be ye also ready: for in such an hour as ye think not the Son of man cometh.”Matthew 24:43-44

While these verses are speaking of spiritual matters, it is clear that Jesus and his audience expected that a person would defend his house if he knew it was going to be broken into.

Does the Bible Justify Self-Defense?

The Bible does justify self defense in some situations. Because the Bible does not detail the ins and outs of when it is okay to use self-defense, it is important to use wisdom to determine what actions to take in various situations. We must check that our hearts are not inclined toward hate, murder, and wrathful anger, for in these situations our defense may easily become retaliation.

When Christian are being persecuted for their faith in Christ, the Bible tells us to count suffering as a blessing rather than defending oneself (James 1:2; Romans 5:3-4), since it produces:

  • Patient Endurance
  • Christlike Character
  • Glorification of God among those who do not believe

Many Christian’s have even endured physical harm because of their faith, and such endurance under persecution is often the seed that blossoms into fruitful gospel presence in otherwise unreached places.

There are some situations, however, where it is still lawful to defend yourself even under persecution for your faith. For example, Paul knew that it was illegal for him to be beaten and protected himself on that occasion by demanding justice (Acts 22:24-25).

Is it a Sin to Defend Yourself?

“And there was a widow in that city; and she came unto him, saying, Avenge me of mine adversary.”Luke 18:3

We can see that this widow adamantly demanded justice against her enemy. She defended herself by enlisting the help of the judge. In the same way, Christians are encouraged to pray for God’s justice against their adversaries. Seeking justice, whether by court of law or by prayer, is never a sin.

Although it is not a sin for believers to defend themselves, it is not always necessary or helpful. For example, there are no occasions in the book of Acts when Christians physically defend themselves from attack when spreading the message of Jesus’ Lordship to those who had never heard the gospel, even when beaten (Acts 5:41). And while Paul used his Roman citizenship to appeal for the right of trial before Caesar (Acts 16:37), his writings promote the general principle of enduring suffering for the sake of making Christ known to those who persecute the Church (Romans 5:3-4; 8:17; 2 Corinthians 1:6; Philippians 1:29).

In every situation, the motive of the heart and the type of sin committed against you matters. This is why it is prudent to steep your mind in God’s word and to operate out of His wisdom.

What Does the Bible Say About Self-Defense Killing?

“If a thief be found breaking up, and be smitten that he die, there shall no blood be shed for him. If the sun be risen upon him, there shall be blood shed for him; for he should make full restitution; if he have nothing, then he shall be sold for his theft.”Exodus 22:2-3

The Bible gives different answers to self-defense killing depending on the situation. In this passage, we can see that the motive of both the attacker and the defender matters. If someone kills a thief, the person who kills him is not to be charged for murder if the event happens at night. If it occurs during the day, and presumably another way of subduing the thief could have been found, the man who kills the thief must “make full restitution.”

“And they set themselves in the midst of that parcel, and delivered it, and slew the Philistines; and the LORD saved them by a great deliverance.”1 Chronicles 11:14

This account describes events in which David and one of his chiefs, Eleazar, defend a city from an enemy attack.

What Does the Bible Say About Defending Yourself Against Slander?

“Having a good conscience; that, whereas they speak evil of you, as of evildoers, they may be ashamed that falsely accuse your good conversation in Christ.”1 Peter 3:16
“Giving no offence in any thing, that the ministry be not blamed … By honour and dishonour, by evil report and good report: as deceivers, and yet true.”2 Corinthians 6:3

These verses forbid Christians from responding negatively when slandered, from taking judgment into our own hands and retaliating in the measure with which we ourselves were slandered. Instead, the Bible exhorts believers to let God be the final judge with regard to those who slander, since this brings much glory to God when believers bless others when they are cursed.

“Yet Michael the archangel, when contending with the devil he disputed about the body of Moses, durst not bring against him a railing accusation, but said, The Lord rebuke thee.”Jude 9

In this somewhat strange interaction between the devil and the archangel Michael, not elsewhere recorded in the Christian Scriptures, the Michael the archangel leaves all judgment in the hands of God rather than arguing back and forth.

“Answer not a fool according to his folly, lest thou also be like unto him.”Proverbs 26:4

Slander and other sins of defamation should be seen and responded to as they really are: foolishness that seeks to entrap others in its wake.

What Does the Bible Say About Weapons for Protection?

It is clear that weapons for warfare, and presumably protection, were used throughout the Old Testament era.

“And the guards stood, every man with his weapons in his hand, from the south side of the house to the north side of the house, around the altar and the house on behalf of the king.”2 Kings 11:11

The temple guards were stationed to protect and defend the temple. The temple guards carried weapons.

“they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruninghooks: nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more.”Isaiah 2:4

This verse from Isaiah anticipates a time when weapons will no longer be needed, though that time is still in the future.

In the New Testament, the Bible says even less about using weapons for protection. At first glace, it would appear that weapons are often forbidden. However, the context of verses related to the use of weaponry are often speaking of spiritual battles and the mission of God.

“Then said he unto them, But now, he that hath a purse, let him take it, and likewise his scrip: and he that hath no sword, let him sell his garment, and buy one.”Luke 22:36

On the surface, this verse would seem to support self-defense in that the disciples are told to take a sword. However, many scholars note that Jesus is speaking ironically here, since the spread of the gospel will come only by way of much hostility. The disciples, however, are not asked to fight with swords and their own human strength to spread the gospel. Rather the gospel spreads by the power of the Holy Spirit.

“For though we walk in the flesh, we do not war after the flesh: (For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal, but mighty through God to the pulling down of strong holds;)2 Corinthians 10:3-4

Here again, the context is related to the spiritual battle we face as Christians. From this verse alone, it would be illegitimate to say that the Apostle Paul is forbidding the use of weapons, only that weapons are insufficient for the true battle in which Christians find themselves.

Stephen D

Stephen Dillard serves as a Bible Scholar with Wycliffe Associates and is a contributing writer on Revelations.org. He is a graduate of Covenant Theological Seminary, St. Louis, Missouri. He and his wife, Madison, have four children and make their home in Indiana.

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