There are a lot of questions in the world dynamic we live in regarding Christians and self-defense, so here are a few thoughts. Many people have a confused view about what the Bible says in regard 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 homeowner has the right to kill him in defense. In daylight, when the homeowner can see the intruder 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.

Please be careful when you are faced with these situations and remember that God ultimately called us to be witnesses of His love and forgiveness to the lost and dying world around us.