What does the Bible say about Self-Defense?
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Question: Does the Bible say we can kill someone in self-defense? This would apply either to defending ourselves or others.
Answer: Many people apply the sixth commandment in the Bible to the question of self-defense. The difficulty in answering this question is due in part to different translations. The KJV translation of this commandment states we are not to kill (Exodus 20:13; Deuteronomy 5:17). This would seem to mean we cannot use deadly force in self-defense. However, the New King James Version Bible, as well as most modern translations, translate Exodus 20:13 as: "You shall not murder." (Exodus 20:13, NKJV throughout)
Jesus confirmed the sixth commandment's intended meaning by stating we are not to murder (Matthew 19:18). Murder is many times a premeditated event carried out by the murderer. Self-defense is our response to those who INITIATE violence against us and is carried out with the intent of protecting ourselves (or others) from injury or even death. Jesus said if a home owner knew a thief was coming to his house he would not allow his home to be broken into:
"Watch therefore, for you do not know what hour your Lord is coming. But know this, that if the master of the house had known what hour the thief would come, he would have watched and NOT ALLOWED his house to be broken into. Therefore you also be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect." (Matthew 24:42-44)
This example shows that God gives us the right to protect our possessions and to do what is needed for self-defense (even though it says nothing about killing someone). Ecclesiastes 3 says there is a time to kill:
"To everything there is a season, a time for every purpose under heaven: . . . A TIME TO KILL, and a time to heal;" (Ecclesiastes 3:1,3)
"…judicially, criminals; or in wars of self-defense; not in malice. Out of this time and order, killing is murder."
In Numbers 35 God gave instructions regarding six cities where a person might take refuge if he or she has killed another person. These cities of refuge were created by God to prevent someone who killed by accident from being killed themselves before they could stand a fair trial:
"Then the LORD spoke to Moses, saying, "Speak to the children of Israel, and say to them: ‘When you cross the Jordan into the land of Canaan, then you shall appoint cities to be CITIES OF REFUGE for you, that the manslayer who kills any person ACCIDENTALLY may flee there. They shall be cities of refuge for you from the avenger, that the manslayer may not die until he stands before the congregation in judgment. And of the cities which you give, you shall have six cities of refuge. . . .
"These six cities shall be for refuge for the children of Israel, for the stranger, and for the sojourner among them, that anyone who kills a person accidentally may flee there." (Numbers 35:9-13,15)
Verse 22 of Numbers 35 gives some examples of death by accident and how God wants the situation handled:
"‘However, if he (the person who kills) pushes him (the person killed) suddenly WITHOUT ENMITY, or throws anything at him without lying in wait, or uses a stone, by which a man could die, throwing it at him without seeing him, so that he dies, while he was not his enemy or seeking his harm, then the congregation shall judge between the manslayer and the avenger of blood according to these judgments." (Numbers 35:22-24)
Jamieson, Fausset and Brown states concerning the Levitical cities of refuge:
"Under the excitement of a sudden provocation, or violent passion, an injury might be inflicted issuing in death; and for a person who had thus unknowingly committed slaughter, the Levitical cities offered the benefit of full protection."
It's interesting to note that, even though the cities of refuge no longer existed, churches were considered places of refuge in the Middle Ages. Our modern version of a place of refuge is putting someone who kills in jail so that they can live to stand trial. The above principles should give you plenty to think and pray about regarding self-defense and the Bible.
Written by: Les Turvey