What does the Bible say about gun control? More specifically, are the guidelines for the use of defensive weapons the same in the Old Testament and the teachings of Jesus in the New Testament?
Gun control has become a hot topic again because of recent tragedies. Politically, both sides of the American political spectrum are making their cases for and against tighter gun control. Some politicians are now beginning to openly call for the repeal of the Second Amendment.
My essay on this topic is not to address the political or social ramifications of the Second Amendment, U.S. political rights, or gun control. My first response to issues like these is to go directly to the scripture to see what principles we can appropriate to guide us in our views and actions. Yes, the Bible speaks to issues of weapons ownership, use, and misuse. The scriptures are sufficient for everything that we need for life and godliness.
So what ideas does the scripture put forth to help us navigate controversial waters such as these?
First, it might surprise you to know that the Bible does speak to issues like this. Yet at the same time it is silent. By that I mean that you won’t find a specific scripture which states, “Thou shalt not own a weapon.” Or one that says, “Thou shalt own a weapon.” In fact, in terms of direct speech, the Bible is silent in this regard. This is because the Bible was not written to give us specific instructions like this. The Bible is a redemptive-historic document.
The purpose of the Bible is not to give us debate fodder to use about contemporary issues. The Bible was not written for us to find support for or against the social issues of our day. The Bible was written for redemptive purposes. However, we can glean from it’s many stories and letters important principles to help us know how to behave or act in certain situations that may not necessarily be part of its primary purpose. Second Amendment rights and gun control issues are one such issue that the Bible speaks to in a roundabout way. What principles can we glean from scripture? To do so we must ask the scripture what it tells us about war, self-defense, and general weapons usage. From there we can appropriate biblical principles to apply to our more modern day applications—like gun control.
After carefully thinking through the scriptures relative to this issue I have come away with the following truths and principles to help guide my personal view on this issue. The first truth, however, is the most important one to consider when dealing with issues like these. It’s not what many people would expect. Here it is:
• Jesus is the God of the Old Testament.
Why is this so important? How often have you heard someone say the God of the Old Testament was judgmental, or cruel, or ordered wars to slaughter thousands, and so on? Those same people urge us to follow their perceived pacifism of Jesus in the New Testament. After all, wasn’t it Jesus who said those who live by the sword will die by the sword? People, even Christians, who take this stand forget a very fundamental truth about Jesus. He is the God of the Old Testament. “He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. For by Him all things were created, both in the heavens and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things have been created through Him and for Him. He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together” (Colossians 1:15-17). In the book of Revelation, Jesus speaks to John and says of himself, “I am the Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end” (Revelation 22:12). This is the same type of language that God used about himself in Isaiah 46:9-10.
Whenever we consider the Bible’s position on controversial issues like this we must remember to systematize what the scripture says in both Testaments, otherwise we will only have a partial picture of the Bible’s view on a topic. For instance, on the issue of weapons use, Jesus is the God of the Old Testament who commanded the armies of Israel to arm themselves for war. He raised up Judges like Ehud who single-handedly struck down King Eglon with a blade he made himself (Judges 3:15-23). He is the one who encouraged David to pursue the Amalekites in I Samuel 30:8 when David was nothing more than a citizen leading his own band of disenchanted men to rescue his family from their enemies. Yet this is the same Jesus who in the New Testament ordered Peter to put away his sword (John 18:11). This is the same Jesus who ordered his followers to turn the other cheek when assaulted (Matthew 5:39) and to love our enemies (Matthew 5:44). Knowing then that it is Jesus who said all these things what principles does the whole of scripture give us regarding weapons use whether it be a knife, a sword, a club, or a firearm? What principles can we glean for us as individuals (not as a society or nation—those are separate issues).
Here are a few principles that I have come away with regarding weapons use in the scriptures. The first one is a hard one for many people, but is critically necessary to understand if we want to have a biblical (not political) view of weapons use.
• You may not intentionally kill your attacker.
In Exodus 22:2, God gives the law regarding home invasion. “If a thief is caught breaking 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.”
Understanding this passage depends upon our understanding of the term, “sunrise.” The implication is that the man defending his home is defending it in the dark. He is struggling with the invader but cannot see or cannot see well. In the process of defending his home and family he kills the invader, though not on purpose. However, if there is light the implication is that the defender sees and knows what he is doing. The passage, therefore, intimates that the defender intentionally kills the intruder. This is when the Mosaic Law declares him “guilty of bloodshed.”
I know this doesn’t sit well with many Americans. We don’t know the invader’s motives or what he might do. Many states even have laws on the books which permit a defender to take the life of a home invader if he believes his life is in jeopardy. However, we are not concerned here with what our modern law says. We are concerned with the scriptures—our highest authority for all things in life; higher than law, higher than a constitution. The scriptures are the supreme guide for all our behaviors. With the exception of war, the scriptures forbid us to intentionally kill another person made in God’s image, regardless of the situation or what weapon is used. Period.
There are other principles the scripture have for us to consider:
• Weapon ownership was common in biblical days.
• There was never a time in scripture when personal weapon ownership was ever discouraged.
• Any man over 20 years of age needed to be armed because he could be called up to serve in the army to defend Israel (Numbers 26:2).
• The Apostles apparently owned weapons (Luke 22:38) and Jesus did not discourage the ownership of such, though he did forbid the use of weapons or violence as a tool of spreading the Gospel or growing God’s kingdom on Earth (John 18:11).
• Bands of raiders often attacked Israelite homes and towns during the Judges period. Homes needed weapons for self-defense.
• Israel seceded from Judah under Rehoboam’s reign and its men were armed for battle against their former government.
These brief examples seem to point to the idea that weapons use was something that God’s people needed to know and have experience with for personal defense as well as for war. In fact, there are also passages which demonstrate that a lack of weapons was a problem for the Israelites.
In I Samuel 13:19, as King Saul is preparing to take his army to battle, the scripture reveals, “No blacksmith could be found in all the land of Israel, for the Philistines said, ‘Otherwise the Hebrews will make swords or spears.’” The implication is that Israel was at a serious disadvantage for war because Israel did not have the practical means to defend itself on equal terms with the Philistines.
One common weapon used in ancient times was the stone and sling. In fact, the oldest mention of a sling in antiquity is actually found in Judges 20:16. Slings were used to fend off animals attacking a heard and, of course, in war. A skillful soldier using a sling in ancient times could hit a target up to 400 feet away.
Slings, bows, spears, swords, daggers—weapons ownership and usage during biblical days was common and it was never discouraged in the Bible. The only thing discouraged regarding weapons was the use of them to intentionally kill another person. To bring harm to someone in self-defense was permitted. But intentionally killing someone, even in self-defense, was never sanctioned in the scripture. Do you own a gun? If so, consider that most people who are shot do not actually die. It is very possible to use a gun in self-defense without having to resort to intentionally killing your opponent.
Finally, the most important thing we should understand as Christians and weapons use is that Jesus did not encourage his followers to arm themselves regarding the Gospel. No Apostle or early disciple resorted to weapons or violence when it came to building the Kingdom. Ten of the Apostles went to their graves in violence—and they never took up arms against their attackers.
When it came to defending one’s testimony of Christ, weapons and violence are not allowed. We may keep our religion and our guns. But if we are attacked for our faith we may speak up and verbally defend ourselves as Paul did throughout the book of Acts. If we are to be harmed for the Gospel’s sake then we may flee or we may stand and take it—also as the Apostle Paul did. But violence of any kind regarding the Gospel disobeys Jesus’ command and his example. Violence was used against him and he never retaliated. The same was true of the Apostles in the book of Acts. It is a hard teaching, difficult for many to accept. But there may come a day in the Christian’s life when being attacked for the sake of Christ means that we lay down our rights as well as our lives.