Self-defense – What does the Bible say?

Many people have a confused view about what the Bible says in regards to self-defense. The law given in Exodus 22:2-3 says that if a man breaks into a home to steal at night, the home-owner has the right to kill him in defense. In daylight, when the home-owner can see that he is there to steal and not to kill, he cannot kill the thief in defense. In Luke 22:37-39, Jesus explains it is good to be appropriately armed. In Proverbs 25:21-22 and Romans 12:17, Scriptures say to not repay evil with evil, but to bless your enemies. And in Matthew 5:39, Jesus said if someone slaps your right cheek, offer them your left as well.

The Bible has very few laws regarding self-defense, but plenty of examples. When Lot and his people were captured, Abram had no problem rescuing him with force (Genesis 14:13-16). In Luke 22:36, Jesus advised His disciples to take swords along with their other provisions. Then again, David refused to harm Saul, even though Saul was trying to kill him. And Jesus scolded Peter for using a sword to fight off the guards that were taking Jesus away (John 18:10-11).

What's the difference? The timing and the situation. In a situation with an unknown aggressor with unknown intent, as in Exodus 22:2, it is okay to use self-defense. If the offense has already occurred, as in Proverbs 25 and Romans 12, we should not take the law into our own hands, but seek justice through the authorities. David refused to kill Saul because Saul was God's anointed king and authority. Jesus condemned Peter's action not because of his intent to defend Christ, but because Peter was getting in the way of God's plan for the guards to take Jesus. The Matthew 5 passage is stickiest. It appears to say that we are to take whatever abuse comes our way quietly. But a "slap on the cheek" didn't mean physical violence. It refers to an insult against honor. We are not to defend our honor with physical violence, but shrug it off.

Another situation that occasionally comes up is what if a wife is a trained fighter and the husband is not? Should the husband, as protector, defend his wife? Or should he let his wife be the aggressor? Although the Bible allows that women may be involved in battle, the Bible doesn't speak of this specific scenario. It's best if the husband and wife talk about this beforehand. They need to know each other's strengths and determine how to work together before the threat even arises.

These are the examples we should follow—to determine the real threat and wisely act accordingly. It is fine to be armed, but it is better to escape unscathed than to needlessly kill an attacker.

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