Did God change His mind on self-defense
when Christ died on the cross?
Those opposed to the use of lethal force by Christians have almost unanimously responded to this question in the affirmative. They fully believe that although God permitted the use of lethal force in the Old Testament, He now requires that Christians refrain from killing anyone in self-defense. The arguments offered in defense of this claim generally take one of two forms. Either it is argued that lethal self-defense is a violation of Christ’s command for us to love our neighbors as ourselves, or it is argued that lethal self-defense is a violation of Christ’s command to love our enemies and do good to them who hate us. Unfortunately for this side of the debate, neither of these arguments is adequate to demonstrate that God has changed His mind on the issue of self-defense.
Those who make the first argument fail to realize that the doctrine of loving one’s neighbor is actually an Old Testament doctrine. One of the clearest explanations of this doctrine in the New Testament occurs in Matthew 22:39. In this passage, a lawyer asked Christ “Master, which is the greatest commandment in the law?” Christ’s answer to this question was:
“Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind (Deuteronomy 6:5). This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself (Leviticus 19:18). On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.”
The Golden Rule, of course, is identified as the second of these two commandments which Christ quoted from the Old Testament, but the most significant statement of Christ’s answer is found in the very last sentence of the verse: “On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.” Jesus Christ was the greatest expert on the Old Testament that ever lived, because He was its Author. Therefore, it is safe to assume that He knew all of the Law when He said that the entire Law is based on the Golden Rule. This means that, according to Christ Himself, Exodus 22:2’s permission to use lethal force in self-defense is not just compatible with but actually founded on the Golden Rule of loving your neighbor as yourself. If Exodus 22:2 is founded on the Golden Rule, then the restatement of the Golden Rule by Christ cannot possibly be a prohibition against the use of lethal force in self-defense.
Those making the second argument, that we are commanded to love our enemies and do good to those that hate us (Luke 6:27), face a similar predicament. Just as with the former argument, the problem with this argument is that Christ’s command to do good to those who hate us is also found in the Old Testament in both Exodus 23:4-5 and Proverbs 25:21-22. If the Old Testament commanded that people do good to their enemies, and the same Old Testament also permitted the use of lethal force in self-defense, then it cannot be true that the use of lethal force in self-defense is forbidden by the command to do good to our enemies.
These two arguments are really just two different renditions of the same basic logical syllogism:
- God commands us to love one another.
- If we kill someone, then we are not loving him.
- Therefore, God commands us never to kill anyone.
The flaw in this argument is found in the second premise. Nowhere does the Bible ever tell us that if we kill someone, then we are not loving him. This is a pure assumption made on the part of those Christians who oppose the use of lethal force in self-defense. If we take the time to search for this concept in Scripture, what we discover instead is three distinct lines of evidence against this assumption.
- The same God who is love ( I John 4:8) and who loves every man perfectly (Eph 2:4) both kills men (I Sam 2:6) and wages war against them (I Chron 5:22).
- God's perfect Law commands love toward all men (Lev 19:18) while at the same time both allowing (Exo 22:2) and even commanding (Gen 9:6) the killing of men under certain given circumstances.
- Jesus Christ who is God in the flesh (John 10:30) and the ultimate personification of love (John 15:9) has promised to kill certain men when He returns to this earth (Matt 25:41, Rev 19:21, Rev 21:8).
From these three lines of evidence, we can conclude that the second premise is definitely incorrect. It is possible to kill someone while still loving him. Therefore, God’s commands for us to love one another are not in any way a prohibition against killing someone in self-defense. I hope that I am never placed in a position where I feel that I need to kill someone in order to protect myself or my family, but if such a situation ever arises, I can face it with the confidence that shooting an attacker does not violate God's Word. In fact, I would probably echo the praise of David when he wrote:
"Blessed be the LORD my strength, which teacheth my hands to war, and my fingers to fight:"