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: Generally speaking, the killing of another person without malice (intent) or premeditation (the killing was not planned) would be considered (in the U.S. legal system, and no doubt others) a form of manslaughter. What is called "involuntary manslaughter" occurs when a person is killed due to an accident by another (e.g. your car brakes fail and you accidently hit and kill someone). A charge of voluntary manslaughter happens in the "heat of passion" such as fighting another person and killing them with a strong blow. In the Bible, killing in self-defense is somewhat related to the above definition of manslaughter.

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 says we are not to kill (Exodus 20:13, also see Deuteronomy 5:17). This translation of the commandment would mean that God does not approve of the use of deadly force to defend oneself regardless of the circumstances. The NKJV translation, however, as well as most modern translations (such as the NIV, NASB, TEV and others), translate verse 13 of Exodus 20 as "You shall not murder." Jesus confirmed the latter translation of the commandment when he said we are not to murder (Matthew 19:18).

True self-defense is our response to those who INITIATE violence against us and wish to do us harm or even kill us. It is carried out with the full intention of protecting ourselves (or others). Jesus said if a home owner knew a thief was coming to his house he would not allow his home to be broken into (Matthew 24:42 - 44). This example shows that God gives us the right to protect our possessions and to do what is needed for defend ourselves (even though it says nothing about killing someone). Ecclesiastes 3 says there is a time to kill (Ecclesiastes 3:1, 3).

The Jamieson, Fausset, and Brown's Bible Commentary on this verse states WHEN this killing is permitted " . . . judicially, criminals; or in wars of self-defense; not in malice. Out of this time and order, killing is murder."

 
 
 
 
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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 (Numbers 35:9 - 13,15). Verse 22 of Numbers 35 gives some examples of death by accident and how God wants the situation handled (Numbers 35:22 - 24).

The JFB Bible commentary confirms the purpose of Israel's cities of refuge as it relates to defending yourself. It states that when a person killed someone due to a sudden provocation or out of passion (unknowingly killing someone), the cities of refuge (Bezer, Golan, Hebron, Kedesh, Ramoth-Gilead and Shechem) offered full protection.

It is 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.

Additional Study Materials
What does God's word
say about SUICIDE?
Are the commandments
no longer relevant?
 
What is the difference between
commandments and judgments?
 
 
 
 
   
 
 
 
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