The majority of this article is excerpted directly from an article I read approximately 15 years ago. It was written in a local Christian magazine, authored by Tom Terry. It gives a balance perspective on gun ownership and biblical use of force.
For the Christian asking about God’s perspective on gun use, the Bible is our first and last word. You won’t find a commandment, “Thou shalt not use guns, own guns, or keep loaded guns in thine house.” Nor can you find what might be the equivalent, “Thou shalt not use bow and arrows, own bow and arrows, or keep a loaded bow in thine house.” What you do find are examples to draw from, both good and bad, of how weapons in general are to be possessed and used for personal and national defense. There are even examples of “militias” and despot governments trying to control weapons and subject nations.
There is a unique example in the Old Testament of what happens when ordinary people are disarmed, and unable to defend themselves from attack.
When Israel was brought up from Egypt to the land of Canaan and began to attack the indigenous peoples of the land, the scripture makes reference to Israel putting them “to the edge of the sword.” However, between this period of judges or “governors” and when Saul, the first King of Israel came to power, Israel had become weaponless. “No blacksmith could be found in all the land of Israel, for the Philistines said, ‘Lest the Hebrews make swords or spears…so it came about on the day of battle that neither sword or spear was found in the hands of any of the people.’” The result was oppression from their Philistine neighbors. There are also other examples during Israel’s earlier history. Specifically about the strength of Israel’s enemies because of better weaponry:’…but they could not drive out the inhabitants of the valley because “thy had iron chariots.” And again, “…the sons of Israel cried out to the Lord; for [Sisera] had nine hundred chariots, and he oppressed the sons of Israel for twenty years.”
During Israel’s reconstructive period, Nehemiah saw the practicality of average people owning weapons for self-defense. And when the citizens of Jerusalem began rebuilding the wall around the city, swords and mortar were kept side by side; “…and I stationed men in the lowest parts of the space behind the wall, the exposed places, and I station the people in families with their swords, spears and bows…those who were rebuilding the wall and those who carried burdens took their load with one hand and the other holding a weapon. As for the builders, each wore his sword girded to his side as he built.
There are also times mentioned in the Old Testament when Israel had little in the way of weapons, yet they defeated their enemies quite easily after taking a period to seek God and implore His mercy on behalf of the nation. During those battles, God provided a special strategy or knowledge needed to win their cause – proving the point of Psalm 44:6-7, “I do not trust in my bow, my sword does not bring me victory; but You have given us victory over our enemies.’
While the Ten Commandments and other passages make it quite clear that murder is morally wrong (and should be punishable by death), God provides for an exception in cases of war. Each of the war examples already cited make such exceptions clear. Nor is capital punishment to be viewed as murder, but as a means of punishing a criminal worthy of death, and preserving society. In modern democracies, it is believed that when capital punishment is exercised, it is done so through the authority of “the people.” However, the Bible makes it clear that such authority is bestowed upon government by God: “It is a minister of God to you for good. But if you do what is evil, be afraid; for it does not bear the sword for nothing; for it is a minister of God, an avenger who brings wrath upon the one who practices evil.”
What about self-defense? For example, is there an exception in the Bible that allows for a person to kill someone who has invaded their home? While the answer may seem to be a quick “yes” in the name of self-defense, a closer look is warranted.
When defining who is liable for a life taken in Exodus 21 and 22, reference is made to burglary. “If a thief is caught braking in and is struck so that he dies, the defender is not guilty of bloodshed; but if it happens after sunrise, he is guilty of bloodshed.” What makes this passage interesting are two things:
The motive of the one “breaking in” and,
When it takes place.
In this case, the motive of the criminal is theft – not murder, or rape, or some other capital offense. Biblically, to kill someone in self-defense when they have broken into your home is excusable. Presumably, it is because you don’t know what the “thief” may decide to do once in your home, and you must make a quick decision on how to protect your family. However, the second point is equally important. The defender, the Bible says, is guilty of bloodshed if the incident takes place after sunrise.
Throughout both the Old and New Testament “light” (in this case, “sunrise”) is symbolic for spiritual and other knowledge. We might interpret this to mean that if while defending your home from an invader you have the means to not kill that person and remain entirely safe, you are obliged to take that course. Understandably, it can be difficult to picture such a situation, but the point here is: it is not always necessary to use lethal force in self-defense.
In using this passage we should not think that though the Bible says the person is “struck so that he dies,” it does not say what he is struck with (a club, a sword, a fist etc.) The point being that the means of defense is not important as long as you defend. If God intended to prohibit self-defense by certain means, (thou shalt not use a torch) He would have said so. And just as many lethal weapons are used with lethal consequences, not every person who is shot dies. Nor does owning a weapon in such a case prove that the intent of the person defending their home is to kill the aggressor no matter what. If this were true, then every gun owner would be suspect of murderous intentions before a break-in ever occurs – and this is just not the case.
If history, from biblical events, to social trends and political actions demonstrate anything about weapons control, it’s that it does not work. Freedom is maintained by responsible people, exercising their liberties in a responsible manner.
In Times Square a tote board rolls off the number of “Gun Deaths” that occur every hour for the year. It presents a shocking picture of how violent our society has become. However, the tote board itself is deceiving. That someone is killed with a gun does not make the death any more tragic or wrong. It might have more impact on our reform-conscious society to change the Times tote board from “Gun Deaths” to “Immoral Deaths,” “People Killed by Immoral People”, “ or “People Killed by Bad People.” At least these signify the genuine problem that causes most of our national difficulties – bad values. What we believe determines our values. Our values determine how we live. If we want to change our society, to really change it, we must change what we believe, what we hold dear and how we live. In desperate times, as we may be fast approaching in our culture, we may simply find it necessary to get rid of the bad people.
In Judges 17 through 21, Israel faced the exact same cultural, religious and political degradation that destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah over 400 years prior. The nation came to a decision – change their values immediately and get rid of the bad people, or face the judgment of God. In doing so, they saved their nation, though in the process endured pain and anguish that entering into such a necessity caused.
The Times tote board, restrictive gun laws, and other means of gun control has done absolutely nothing in regards to bringing down crime rates or restoring safety to our streets. We, especially Christians, need to keep our arms and learn how to handle them properly. We should also train ourselves in the morality that stems from the Bible and a personal relationship with a loving God who requires that we view life realistically. David pronounced his faith in God before he slew Goliath the giant, but he also loaded his sack with rocks. That kind of common sense propelled him to the top of the kingdom and he serves as our example.
The day for turning our swords into plowshares won’t come until Jesus Christ returns and establishes His peace. Until then, some of us will have to stay armed in an effort to offset the lack of values some people have. It’s a matter of protection. There are many good reasons to own a gun – that’s probably the best one.