Self-defense in the bible
What does the Bible have to say about self-defense?
Buy a sword
Jesus is well known for His emphasis on love, forgiveness, and "turning the other cheek," but many overlook Luke 22:36 when he advised the disciples to buy a sword, "But now if you have a purse, take it, and also a bag; and if you don't have a sword, sell your cloak and buy one." Was Jesus advocating the use of a sword for self-defense purposes? This is a question that Christians have argued about for centuries.
Turn the other cheek
Christian pacifists believe it is always wrong to injure other humans, no matter the circumstances. And the same principles supporting pacifism carry over to nonresistance, the belief that any form of self-defense is wrong. This view is usually based on the exemplary life and teachings of Jesus. Christian pacifists believe Jesus rejected the existing political situation and taught a form of radical nonviolence, mandating that one "turn the other cheek" when encountering violence (Matthew 5:38-48). When Jesus told the disciples to buy a sword, pacifists suggest He was only speaking figuratively.
While it is true that Jesus said to turn the other cheek, many scholars do not believe pacifism, or nonresistance, is the essential point of His teaching in this passage or that He meant to "turn the other cheek" in all circumstances. Even Christ did not turn the other cheek when smitten by a member of the Sanhedrin (John 18:22-23). Also, what happens after you are smitten on the other cheek?
The Jews considered it an insult to be hit in the face. Jesus specifically mentions striking the right side of the face in Matthew 5:39. To the best of our knowledge of the Hebrew language, that expression is a Jewish idiom that describes an insult, similar to the way Westerners challenged one to a duel. Thus, the principle taught in the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5:38-42 would seem to be that Christians should not retaliate when insulted or slandered since insults do not threaten personal safety.
Jesus' nonresistance, His arrest, and His actions at the cross were intertwined with His unique calling; it was God's will for Him to fulfill His prophetic role as the redemptive Lamb of God. During His ministry, however, He refused to be arrested because God's timing for His death had not yet come (John 8:59). Thus, Christ's unique nonresistance during the Passion does not mean he was against using self-protection.
The Bible records many accounts of fighting and warfare. The providence of God in war is exemplified by His name YHWH Sabaoth ("The LORD of hosts" Exodus 12:41). God is portrayed as the omnipotent Warrior-Leader of the Israelites. God, the LORD of hosts, raised warriors among the Israelites called the shophetim (savior-deliverers). Samson, Deborah, Gideon, and others were anointed by the Spirit of God to conduct war.
The New Testament praises Old Testament warriors for their military acts of faith (Hebrews 11:30-40). Moreover, it is significant that although given the opportunity to do so, none of the New Testament saints–nor even Jesus–are ever seen informing a military convert that he needed to resign from his line of work (Matthew 8:5-13; Luke 3:14).
Before His crucifixion, Jesus revealed to His disciples the future hostility they would face and encouraged them to sell their outer garments and to buy a sword (Luke 22:36-38; cf. 2 Corinthians 11:26-27). Here the "sword" (Greek: maxairan) is a dagger or short sword that belonged to the Jewish traveler's equipment as protection against robbers and wild animals. A plain reading of the passage indicates that Jesus approved of self-defense.
Self-defense may result in one of the greatest acts of human love. Christ said, "Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends" (John 15:14). When protecting one's family or neighbor, a Christian is unselfishly risking his or her life for the sake of others.