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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.”
This account describes events in which David and one of his chiefs, Eleazar, defend a city from an enemy attack.
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.
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.
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.
It is clear that weapons for warfare, and presumably protection, were used throughout the Old Testament era.
The temple guards were stationed to protect and defend the temple. The temple guards carried weapons.
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.
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.
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.