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Self-Defense in Exodus 22:2-3

. . . and Luke 22:36

The Christian Statesman is published bi-monthly by the National Reform Association, an organization established in 1864 to create a "Christian America," promoting what it bills as "Explicitly Christian Politics." The Jan-Feb 1997 issue (vol. 140, no. 1) was dedicated to "Gun Control / Self-Defense / Right to Bear Arms." The lead article, "Biblical Law and Self-Defense" is written by the Editor, William Einwechter. The article fairly represents the views of most conservative Christians on the issue of self-defense as it begins with Exodus 22:2-3:

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 . . . . (Ex. 22:2-3)

At the heart of the debate over gun control is the issue of self-defense. Citizens may desire gun ownership for hunting and recreation, but the primary reason for owning a gun is self-defense against criminals and a tyrannical government.

Therefore, any biblical text that deals with the right of self-defense is central to determining the right of gun ownership under God's law. Perhaps the most crucial text to address the right of self-defense is Exodus 22:2-3.

The article concludes that this text justifies self-defense.

Another writer in the same issue reaches the same conclusion:
One conclusion which can be drawn from this [text] is that a threat to our life is to be met with lethal force. . . .
But he goes on to infer that self-defense is not only permitted, but mandated:
In Proverbs 25:26 we read that "A righteous man who falters before the wicked is like a murky spring and a polluted well." Certainly we would be faltering before the wicked if we chose to be unarmed and unable to resist an assailant who might be threatening our life. . . . For a man to refuse to provide adequately for his and his family's defense would be to defy God.

Exodus 22 is the only text cited by the Westminster Larger Catechism to defend its conclusion that "necessary defense" is a valid exception to the Sixth Commandment's injunction "Thou shalt not kill." Few other texts could be cited. An excellent verse to justify self-defense would be "If your life is threatened, kill your enemy before he kills you." But of course we have no such verse. Exodus 22:2-3, however, looks sufficient.

Until you look at it closely:

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 . . . . (Ex. 22:2-3)
A little thought reveals that this passage is not saying that self-defense is good, but that it is bad. If a thief breaks into your house and you kill him in "self-defense," you are to be put to death! Your blood must be shed to cleanse the land of the murder of the thief (Numbers 35:33). Now, granted, if it is night, and your injuries to the thief cause him to die, you will not be executed. "I'm letting you off this time," the Lord seems to be saying; but only if it is at night (cp. Romans 13:12).

It is amazing -- mind-boggling -- how an entire tradition of self-defense and anti-pacifism could be constructed on this verse. And with such confidence. All the difficult sayings of Jesus regarding love -- even for our "enemy" -- can be swept under the carpet as "impractical." John Wayne, not Mother Theresa, becomes the Christian model.

Luke 22:36 is also cited by the [other] NRA:

We must also consider what Christ told his disciples in his last hours with them: ". . . But now, he who has a money bag, let him take it, and likewise a sack and he who has no sword let him sell his garment and buy one" (Luke 22:36, emphasis added). Keep in mind that the sword was the finest offensive weapon available to an individual soldier -- the equivalent then of a military rifle today.

The Christian pacifist will likely object at this point that only a few hours later, Christ rebuked Peter who used a sword to cut off the ear of Malchus, a servant of the high Priest in the company of a detachment of troops. Let us read what Christ said to Peter in Matthew 26:52-54:

Put your sword in its place, for all who take the sword will perish by the sword. Or do you think that I cannot now pray to My Father, and He will provide Me with more than twelve legions of angels? How then could the Scriptures be fulfilled, that it must happen thus? 

It was not the first time that Christ had to explain to the disciples why He had come to earth. To fulfill the Scriptures, the Son of God had to die for the sin of man since man was incapable of paying for his own sin apart from going to hell. Christ could have saved His life, but then believers would have lost their lives forever in hell. . . .

While Christ told Peter to "put your sword in its place," He clearly did not say get rid of it forever. That would have contradicted what he had told the disciples only hours before.

No it wouldn't have, because Christ really wasn't telling the disciples to sell their clothes and buy a sword, any more than he was telling the disciples never to take an oath (Matthew 5:34) or to pluck their eyes out (Matthew 5:29). Christ used hyperbolic language which is not easily understood by violence-sated 20th-century American rationalist zombies. By saying the disciples should sell their clothes and buy a sword, Christ was vividly telling the disciples that persecution was coming. By saying, "Look, Lord, here are two swords!" the disciples exasperated the Lord, Who said, in effect, "I've had enough" (Luke 22:38). Two swords would hardly have been sufficient for twelve disciples. Jesus was not telling them to buy weapons, as Greg Bahnsen has taught. These were "disappointing disciples."

The Orange County Register published a Memorial Day editorial which resulted in the publication of four letters to the editor, two of them written by yours truly. This exchange helps us understand the Gospel and its "vine and fig tree" imagery.

"Vine & Fig Tree" is not the vision of 20th century America. The farther we stray from the "Vine & Fig Tree" vision, the more violent and impoverished we become. The Register opinion extolled the virtues of American violence, even as it criticized it in other nations.

Here is the editorial, footnoted with my comments.

Fulton J. Sheen said America's mission was freedom.[1] But freedom comes at a price.[2] Those who suppress freedom must be stopped,[3] sometimes at great cost.[4] Today we remember those Americans who paid that price with their lives, leaving behind our precious treasure of liberty.[5]

This century has teemed with tyrannies and mass murder. On Memorial Day, we remember those who died keeping the slaughter from happening on these shores and stopping it elsewhere.[6]

A new book describes just how important this task was. Death by Government details the immense human suffering inflicted in this century by governments.[7]

Author R.J. Rummel's meticulous research provides the most accurate numbers yet for the atrocities: a total of about 169 million people murdered - more than were murdered by all previous wars and governments in history. To cite Mr. Rummel's chapter titles:

  • In World War II, Americans fought and died to end "The Nazi Genocide State," which murdered some 21 million people and "Japan's Savage Military," which murdered 6 million.
  • In the Cold War, Americans fought and died against regimes that murdered 61 million in "the Soviet Gulag State," 35 million in "the Communist Chinese Anthill," 1.7 million in the communist "Vietnamese War State," 2 million in "the Hell State: Cambodia Under the Khmer Roughe," and 1.7 million in "Orwellian North Korea."

Mr. Rummel's conclusion: "The problem is power. The solution is democracy. The course of action is to foster freedom."[8]

If the next century is less homicidal than this one, it will be because so many Americans were willing to die defending life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. They gave their lives that their friends and relatives - their fellow Americans - and the rest of humankind might live in a better world.


* * * * *
(1) Vine & Fig Tree's mission is obedience. "Freedom" in the modern world means "Freedom from God." The nation created in 1776 has indeed had freedom from God as its mission. Pursuit of unbridled commerce has been its national goal. Vine & Fig Tree is not made up of "Freedom Fighters," but servants of others and of the executed Christ.  [Return to text]

(2) The pursuit of material pleasures has indeed come at a high price. We don't often give thought to the world we have lost.  [Return to text]

(3) What this really means is, "Those who try to confiscate our material goods will be killed." And since this article is talking about Memorial Day, we have to remember who it was that was trying to "suppress [our] freedom." Who was attempting to suppress freedom in the Gulf War? Saddam Hussein. Who was killed? 250,000 innocent men, women, and children, who probably didn't like Saddam any more than we did. Saddam is still alive, still suppressing freedom. Hitler was suppressing freedom. Who did we kill? Well, we firebombed tens of thousands of civilians in Dresden. We never did kill Hitler. We did bring thousands of his highest ranking military officials and scientists into our military and intelligence services to help "fight the communists." And how do we fight the communists? Low-interest, tax-payer guaranteed loans. The largest tank factory in the world, built on the Kama River by Ford Motor Co., paid for by U.S. Taxpayers. (See Hoover Institution [Stanford U.] fellow Antony Sutton, National Suicide: Military Aid to the Soviet Union.)

But history aside, here's the ethical issue: if someone threatens us with enslavement or a lower standard of living, what does Jesus say we should do to that person? If someone steals a thousand dollars from us, does the Bible give us the right to bomb his village?  [Return to text]

(4) A cost always borne by the innocent, never by the politicians and the Wall Street bankers.  [Return to text]

(5) The result of every single war in our nation's history, if not in world history, has been the diminution of liberty, and the increase in totalitarianism, centralization, and fascism. Study the Roosevelt Administration, and ask yourself if World War II increased liberty in America. If you need a clue, see Robert Higgs, Crisis and Leviathan, Oxford Univ. Press, 1987, and Edmund Opitz, ed., Leviathan at War, 1995. War is always an excuse to centralize power. The government which "wins" a war is stronger, if not engorged. Randolph Bourne put it: "War is the health of the State."  [Return to text]

(6) And we thereby deceive ourselves. Those who fought and died in 1776 would call 20th century America the greatest tyranny of all, and Americans the most enslaved. The Soviet Union may have more gulags, and Red China more slave labor, but America more exemplifies Babylon (Rev. 17-18), and this is truly the more terrifying indictment.

As the Opinion goes on to show, we did not stop the tyranny and mass murder. And the article neglects to mention that we funded it.  [Return to text]

(7) I actually like the Register: they're pretty savvy. They take a dim view of government. But wars are always fought in defense of a government. We fight to preserve not our voluntary associations and our churches, but our government. We fought the British in 1776 because we didn't like their form of government. They fought us back because they didn't like our rival form of government. This is why Vine & Fig Tree advocates the elimination of civil government. This editorial will give us an indication of what we will save if we do.  [Return to text]

(8) If we just keep on "fostering freedom," where will that eventually lead? Why is it that the quest for "freedom" inevitably produces totalitarianism, while the willingness to be slaves of Christ produces liberty?  [Return to text]

* * * * *

Clearly, they all died in vain. The wars of the 20th century have not made this century a better century, and there is absolutely no indication that the next century is going to be any less homicidal.

Here is my e-mailed response, most of which was published.

Subj: Memorial Day
Date: 05/28/96
To: letters@link.freedom.com


Thanks to the Register for calling our attention to the work of Prof. R.J. Rummel (May 27, "A Day to Remember.").

Memorial Day is a difficult day for us Christian anarchist/pacifists. We are saddened by the loss of so many men and women created in the Image of God, and by the pain their families feel. But we do not believe that their deaths were either necessary or productive.

The life and teaching of Jesus is that we do not take up arms to defend ourselves. Christians give up their lives rather than take the life of another. This view is dismissed as "unrealistic," and more so on those holidays which glorify war.

When you write,

"If the next century is less homicidal than this one, it will be because so many Americans were willing to die . . ."
what you mean to say is,
". . . were willing to kill."
This willingness to kill is the mentality that undergirds the State, and the cause of 20th century "democide" is not the willingness to follow Jesus to the Cross, but the willingness to kill other human beings who stand in the way of our desires. Prof. Rummel's book is entitled, "Death by Government," not "Death by Pacifism."

The thirst for vengeance and the devaluation of human life marks the shift from Christianity to Secular Humanism. As Christians mature, they abandon these character defects and the militarism they produce ("Crusades still influence the Mideast," May 26). As Secular Humanism matures in its worship of Man, it self-consciously embodies the words of Existentialist Philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre: "If I am god, then my neighbor is the devil."

"If the next century is less homicidal than this one," it will be because we repudiate Secular Humanism, abolish the State, and "beat our swords into plowshares" (Micah 4:1-5).

Kevin Craig
Orange County Catholic Worker
316 Cypress
Santa Ana CA 92701
(714) 835-6304

The purpose of Vine & Fig Tree is to propagate this message of pacifism, anarchism, and pro-life Biblical values.

The biggest opponents of Vine & Fig Tree thinking have been and will probably continue to be those who call themselves "Christians." While the Register usually prints only one letter on each issue, it published two responses to my letter, perhaps indicative of the large volume of mail they received.


Kevin Craig's attack on Memorial Day ["Devaluing human life through acts of war," Letters, June 3] is an insult to every American who has served in the armed forces and particularly to the families and loved ones of those who gave up their lives defending our nation.[9]

Craig's statement, "The life and teaching of Jesus is that we do not take up arms to defend ourselves," is totally false.[10]

When Jesus was preparing his disciples for his departure from this Earth, in Luke 22:36 he told them, "He that hath no sword, let him sell his garment and buy one."

When Jesus comes again, it will be at the head of an army with sword in hand.[11] However, this does not mean that Christianity supports war.[12] On the contrary, the word of God condemns war and supports peace but it also recognizes war is sometimes necessary and even commanded by God.[13]

Millions of Americans have died in wars so the rest of us, including Kevin Craig, could live in a free country.[14] That's what Memorial Day is about.

David J. Moore
San Juan Capistrano

* * * * *


Craig wrote that the deaths remembered on Memorial Day were unnecessary and unproductive. Although he identifies with Christianity, his anarchist/pacifist viewpoint ignores the lessons of scripture and history.

For a country to survive without a government, people must be basically good at heart, which clearly is not the case.[15] And if people are not good at heart, then we need something or someone to govern us. Craig says that this should be Christ, and I agree.

However, Christ works in individuals; our nation is made up of many divergent viewpoints and, therefore, requires a government.[16]

If a nation has no government, the pacifists, the weak, and the innocent will be killed,[17] and power-hungry, self-serving people will set up a tyranny.[18] That's always the way it is; anarchy lasts for a short while, then a tyranny takes its place.[19]

Human nature is evil, the Bible clearly tells us so. Our soldiers did not die for nothing. They died to keep wicked people out of powerful positions, and for this we should be grateful.[20]

Jason Rowberg

(9) Really? I thought the letter was rather conciliatory. That, at least, was my intention. My first paragraph is certainly not a mocking of those who have felt the pain of war.  [Return to text]

(10) Totally false? Absolutely nothing true here? Nothing we can learn?

This is the kind of us/them either/or mentality that polarizes people into good-guys/bad-guys and results in war. "They" are all bad; "we" are all good. The "totally evil" enemy must be "totally" destroyed.

This works to the advantage of the State. This Christian probably works for "limited government" in other spheres, but he has been trained to believe that those who favor limited government in the area of war are boogeymen, against whom we must intellectually quarantine ourselves. Thus there is no cooperation between parties that might otherwise work to limit the State and strengthen families.  [Return to text]

(11) A major part of Vine & Fig Tree publications are dedicated to disproving this concept of the "Second Coming."  [Return to text]

(12) Of course, most of the flag-waving that took place as Iraqi peasants were being "bombed back into the Stone Age" by American "smart bombs" were Christians who believed that Jesus was coming soon to start a nuclear Armageddon. Christianity seems to support peace only in theory, not in Washington.  [Return to text]

(13) Name one unarmed German civilian in Dresden, or one unarmed Iraqi peasant in Baghdad, that God commanded us to kill. There were literally hundreds of thousands that we could choose from. God commanded us to kill them? Their deaths were necessary?  [Return to text]

(14) I do not believe I live in a free country. I cannot get a job as a teacher in a government-coerced school and pray with children, and help them live in obedience to God's Ten Commandments. That would be "unconstitutional." This is freedom? The Founding Fathers would not think so. In our day the government seeks to confiscate ten times as much in taxes as incited the Founding Fathers to revolt. This is freedom?  [Return to text]

(15) Clearly! People with bad hearts are forming governments all over the world! People with good hearts are being subjected to acts of organized government each and every day.  [Return to text]

(16) What does "divergent viewpoints" have to do with the necessity for governments to kill off or threaten to kill the "bad guys"? This is really a plug for pluralism. "I agree" that Christ should govern us, he says, but since we have Jews and Muslims in our country, we have to let the Secular Humanists govern us. The Secular Humanists govern in the Soviet Union. You can have it.  [Return to text]

(17) By whom? Prof. Rummel has shown that the overwhelming percentage of murders are committed by governments! Private enterprise criminals can't even hold a candle to the crimes committed by the government. And there is no area of crime where this is not the case: drug smuggling, theft, murder - the government is the world's biggest criminal syndicate.  [Return to text]

(18) Suppose Bill Clinton and Adolph Hitler got together and decided to form a tyrannical government, but all the people in the nation had read Vine & Fig Tree propaganda and were all anarchists and pacifists. Who would vote for Slick Willie and Dolfie? Who would put on the uniforms and conduct house-to-house searches? Who would put the Christians into the lions' dens? Tyrannies are always set up by people who don't believe the gospel, and the triggers are pulled by those who believe that social salvation comes from the State.  [Return to text]

(19) So what is this letter-writer saying: we should work against decentralized self-government, and work for tyranny? When has there ever been a state of anarchy, and why did a tyranny take its place? There have in fact been times when a group of people were self-governing, productive, and peaceful, but they didn't all decide to abandon decentralization and form a tyranny. Tyrannies only exist because people believe in them. Vine & Fig Tree is dedicated to destroying this myth of "anarchy then tyranny."  [Return to text]

(20) Sorry, but wars have universally resulted in wicked people solidifying their hold on power.  [Return to text]

* * * * *

These two letters are why Vine & Fig Tree exists. Christians are the most confused people in the world. The Register cites the evidence to prove that governments are lethal, and it's the Christians who run to the defense of these tyrannies. And yet they think they are doing good and are on the side of good.

If the Northern "superpowers" wipe themselves out in a mad binge of violence and vengeance, the human race might still continue south of the equator. My faith would not be destroyed if America were. "Let God be true and every man be found a liar" (Romans 3:4). What bothers me is that our culture thinks it's Christian, and yet mocks God's Law. We take the Name of Christ, but refuse to follow Him to the Cross.[21]

I didn't think the Register would go one more round on this issue, but I figured if I responded to these two letters, at least the people in the Editorial Room would read it. So here's what I sent them:

* * * * *


Jason Rowberg ("Wars are Necessary to Protect Society," Talk Show, June 7) defends government bloodshed by accusing anarchists and pacifists of "ignoring the lessons of Scripture and history." "Human nature is evil," he asserts, and then monopolistically arms a small segment of that evil humanity with the military power to destroy the rest.

If human beings are by nature so evil that they will only do good when a gun is pointed at their heads, then those human beings who are given all the guns will point those guns at those who seek to do good. "Power corrupts" politicians, not just citizens. History shows that war protects politicians, not society.

But if Rowberg ignores R.J. Rummel's violent chronicle of the history of the State, David J. Moore ignores the clear teaching of Scripture. Although he cannot deny the universally-recognized truth that "The Word of God condemns war and supports peace," his patriotism moves him to label as "totally false" my statement that "The life and teaching of Jesus is that we do not take up arms to defend ourselves." ["Devaluing human life through acts of war," Letters, June 3] Not just "ambiguous," "misleading," or "a half truth," but "totally false," an "attack" and an "insult." To coin a phrase, "them's fightin' words!" But Moore won't convince many pacifists to fight by his shoddy exegesis of Luke 22:36 ("He that hath no sword, let him sell his garment and buy one"). As is so frequently the case, the context shows that Jesus was using hyperbolic language to make a quite different point; in this case, that His sleepy-headed disciples should prepare themselves for another outbreak of government violence, this time directed against the greatest Teacher of Peace in human history. In another context, Jesus said we should cut off our hands and poke out our eyes (Matthew 5:28-30). Understood correctly, this was a vivid way of saying we should not lust. But too many militaristic Christians fail to interpret ambiguous passages of Scripture in light of the obvious ones. So if you see a one-armed, one-eyed man walking naked through the streets of San Juan Capistrano carrying a sword, it must be the ever-patriotic David J. Moore.

History and clear-thinking Christianity do not support the institutionalized violence of the Garrison State. Contemporary scholarship does not support the notion that wars protect society. This is what Memorial Day should be about.

* * * * *

The reason why Christians are so empty-headed, and the reason they all shout and cheer and wave flags when their fellow Americans are killing hundreds of thousands of impoverished Iraqi peasants and bombing countless valuable Biblical archeological sites in order to protect Bush Family oil investments is that they are Americans.

America is a nation that was founded upon the blood of thousands of government officials. American Christians talk about how wonderful government is, and how "totally false" pacifists and anarchists are, and yet when the government starts interfering with their personal peace and affluence, they don't hesitate to take up arms.

This is clearly the story of America, perhaps the most violent nation on earth. On July 4th we celebrate our "Declaration of Independence" from the "God-ordained" government and the establishment of a new government that is undeniably more corrupt, more atheistic, and more tyrannical than the British government was or is. Americans now pay taxes at rates 10 times as high as those that prompted their Founders to put a bullet through the head of "God ordained" tax collectors.

To paraphrase Jesus, he who defends his life will lose it. (Luke 9:24)


(21) I heartily recommend a book by a former executive of Operation Rescue: Shattering the Darkness, by Joseph Foreman.  [Return to text]

"Ive had enough of your blindness!" -- the same Greek construction is found in Deuteronomy 3:26, LXX.  [Return to text]

Bahnsen's tape catalog is available on the Covenant Media website. Look for Tape No. GB076, and/or GB078, in the series on Luke.  [Return to text]