I'm going to attempt to present a biblical defense for weapon ownership. This article will not be an exhaustive look at the Bible and weapons. There are too many passages to address here. I would like to present an 30,000 foot view of the issue and try to draw a few conclusions.
This article does not present a legal or constitutional view on the right to gun ownership. If you want to pursue the historical or legal issues there are other outlets to do that. My concern is solely with what scripture seems to say or imply about weapons ownership, use, purpose, and consequences. And it is only from the scripture that I wish to make my arguments.
My approach is to ask the scripture what principles it provides about weapons. In any controversial topic there is always the temptation to search out scripture for support of your argument, rather than seeking what the text says and changing our views accordingly. As an example, when I first researched this subject in 1993 I was of the opinion that the scripture licensed killing an attacker who invades your home. But then, I discovered Mosaic Law that would seem to deny that idea. As I studied the passage I had to change my opinion to bring it in line with scripture. I’ll deal with this specific issue later. The purpose here is to note that though the scripture is ancient, it still contains relevant truth for modern issues—including the political right of bearing arms.
I’ll address the subject of weapons ownership in five areas:
1.) The purpose of weapons and weapon ownership
2.) The responsibilities of weapon ownership
3.) Is there a biblical right to weapons ownership?
4.) Are there biblical restrictions to weapons ownership and use?
5.) Weapons and conscience
Now, it is apparent that in the days of which the scripture talks no guns of any type existed. Weapons in biblical days consisted of clubs, daggers, swords, bow and arrow, spears, and slings (and even farm implements). In fact, the earliest mention of the sling in antiquity is found in the Bible in Judges 20:16 about the rebellious army of Benjamin. “Among all these were 700 chosen men who were left-handed; every one could sling a stone at a hair and not miss.” I mention this because the sling, for the purpose of comparison, was effectively (along with the bow and arrow), the firearm of its day in that it propelled a fast moving projectile at its target from a considerable distance. Slings didn’t just propel any kind of rock. Sling stones were usually round, heavy, and most definitely, deadly. Deadly accuracy was obtained at a distance of 30 yards, but stones were known to hit their targets at as much as 150 yards away. That’s one-and-a-half football fields. Here is a picture of just one such sling stone found in Israel. Notice it’s size compared to the hands holding it.
Clearly, sling stones were deadly objects used in both military and personal defense. This brings us to our first issue.
THE PURPOSE OF WEAPONS AND WEAPONS OWNERSHIP
In the early days of the Bible there were a number of weapons that people used for war and self-defense. The most common probably being a dagger or bow and arrow. Swords were also available, usually used in warfare. But the swords of the Mosaic period or period of the Judges were not straight swords like is often depicted on television. Swords used in battle at that time were sickle shaped and primarily used for hacking an enemy to death.
The purpose of this weapon was simple, the brutal death of the enemy.
Other weapons were also common. There was a straight, short dagger as used by Ehud in Judges 3:16 and 21 to kill Eglon, king of Moab. But the dagger had multiple uses other than for defense. The bow and arrow was the most common long distance weapon, used for centuries. The bow was primarily used in warfare and game hunting. The bow might be considered the rifle of its day, able to pierce an enemy or game up to 400 yards away under the right conditions. The sling, as described above, might be the equivalent of a handgun.
In ancient times these weapons were primarily used in warfare, especially the sickle shaped sword, hacking the enemy to bits. What is interesting about these weapons is that under the Mosaic Law, none of them were forbidden from ownership or use considering their purpose. In fact, the argument might be made that ownership of such weapons was a necessity for hunting food (bow), as well as defense. We can surmise this not only because of the law’s silence on ownership, but because of a short passage of scripture in Judges 3:1-3. “Now these are the nations that the Lord left, to test Israel by them, that is, all in Israel who had not experienced all the wars in Canaan. It was only in order that the generations of the people of Israel might know war, to teach war to those who had not known it before.” The implication is not that God wanted Israel to be bloodthirsty, rather, he was teaching them war for defense and acquisition of the land he promised Israel. Israel had to learn war with weapons because all of their enemies possessed these brutal weapons. Israel needed to be able to defend itself on equal footing as its enemies.
It was clear in Old Testament times that God wanted Israel’s enemies to be killed and he commissioned Israel as the arm of that punishment (Numbers 31:17, Judges 21:11, I Samuel 15:3). Fulfilling these commands necessitated the use of weapons.
Now, to be sure, these are brutal passages, difficult for the modern reader to accept. Thankfully, we do not live in that day and nowhere in scripture are Christians called to engage in these kinds of actions. However, these passages have to be understood in the context they were given. These were matters of national defense, not personal vengeance. And in the day in which they lived every able bodied male was essentially a member of Israel’s militia.
While I am not primarily interested in making political comment here, I will let this one comment slip by. The purpose of the US 2nd Amendment was the creation of state militias, which are primarily comprised of weapon-owning citizens. Thus, it is necessary for such citizens to own weapons appropriate to warfare—for the defense of the state. The Bible does not forbid this. Rather, this was the model for Israel’s defense in biblical times.
THE RESPONSIBILITIES OF WEAPONS OWNERSHIP
The responsibilities of weapons ownership revolve around its purposes. Each person who owns a weapon had to be trained in its use. I allude the above passage in Judges 1:1-3 where Israel had to learn war to defend itself. This, by definition, must include training on these weapons.
Now, there is no passage of scripture that I can find which deals specifically with training people on how to use certain weapons. But that it was the common thing of the day seems undeniable. Every able-bodied male had to be ready to fight. He likely had some kind of training so that he could avoid getting killed.
There is one New Testament passage which discusses the purpose of the sword. It is found in Romans 13:4, in discussion about the government that holds the power of the sword. "If you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain." Thus, the purpose of the sword, or probably better stated, the power of painful punishment, is to do just that, punish the wicked. This is why the sword, and by implication, the gun, is actually an instrument of good. The Apostle Paul notes, "He is God's servant for your good," stated alongside the authority of the sword. The sword both punishes the evildoer and protects the righteous. So it is with those are charged for our protection using the power of the gun. This is true whether it is military, law enforcement, or even the state-organized militia. Thus, the responsibility of weapon's ownership is one of defense. Killing is the not the purpose. It may be a result in some circumstances, but it is not the purpose.
IS THERE A BIBLICAL RIGHT TO WEAPONS OWNERSHIP?
In the sense of their national identity, Israel, as a nation, had the right to defend itself and thus have weapons to that end. Oppressors often confiscate weapons to solidify their hold on a subjugated people. We have an example of this in I Samuel 13:19 and 22. "There was no blacksmith to be found throughout all the land of Israel, for the Philistines said, 'Lest the Hebrews make themselves swords or spears'…So on the day of the battle there was neither sword nor spear found in the hand of any of the people with Saul and Jonathan, but Saul and Jonathan his son had them." Thus, we see that restricting weapons ownership is a detriment to the protection of the people. But is that the same as saying that biblically, we have a "right" to weapons?
It is apparent from the Old Testament that God wanted the Israelites to own weapons, or at least a segment of the society to own weapons. Every able-bodied male from 20-years of age was required to serve in a military capacity when needed. “Take a census of all the congregation of the sons of Israel, by their families, by their fathers’ households, according to the number of names, every male, head by head from twenty years old and upward, whoever is able to go out to war in Israel” (Numbers 1:2). Going out to war implies the need for a weapon.
At that time, male citizens were called upon for defense. We may surmise from this that while weapons ownership may not have been a right, it may have been a requirement. And that weapon could be used in self defense in addition to military defense.
I don't know that we can say that weapon ownership in the Bible was a right because the Bible does not speak to it in this way. It is probably best to say that it was permissible and necessary. But that does not translate to a biblical right. A little explanation is in order.
There are three levels where something may be permitted or forbidden in the Bible. Let's use a simple illustration like sex. In the scripture sex between a married couple is the ideal. Sex of a man with his multiple wives or concubines was permissible, but not ideal. Sex outside of marriage was forbidden. Look at stealing. Barter and possession was ideal. Pillaging a dead army's goods was permissible. Stealing was forbidden. Now, let's apply this three-fold distinction to weapons. Peace is the ideal. War or defensive action is permissible under certain conditions. Murder is forbidden.
Our greatest responsibility is to understand the moral implications if we own and intend to use a weapon of any kind. Owning a weapon for self-defense does not automatically give the defender the right to kill in self-defense. Allow me to address this from scripture.
ARE THERE BIBLICAL RESTRICTIONS TO WEAPONS OWNERSHIP AND USE?
Unless in war or acting as an arm of the state, you may not intentionally kill your attacker. Where do I find this in scripture? In Exodus 22:2-3. Notice carefully what it say, "If a thief is found breaking in and is struck so that he dies, there shall be no bloodguilt for him, but if the sun has risen on him, there shall be bloodguilt for him." Let's unwrap this. The situation presented is someone who has broken into a home at night. The occupant fights with the thief to protect himself and his property. If they fight at night and the thief dies, there is no guilt on the homeowner. But if it is daytime, there is guilt. Why? Because the passage implies that the homeowner can see what he is doing. He intentionally kills the intruder.
It may happen. It can be forgiven and excused, but the Bible does not give us the right to INTENTIONALLY, in a premeditative kind of way, kill an attacker. It is acceptable to warn your attacker that you will shoot him. It is even acceptable to shoot him in self-defense. But it is a different thing to say, “If you attack, I will kill you.” It is a different thing to intentionally, with malice and aforethought, kill your attacker if you have another option to defend without killing.
Some remark that Jesus was a pacifist and spoke against using weapons in John 18:10-11. But, did Jesus really take an anti-weapon stance in the garden? No. Look carefully at Jesus' words and their context. "Simon Peter, having a sword, drew it and struck the high priest’s servant and cut off his right ear…So Jesus said to Peter, 'Put your sword into its sheath; shall I not drink the cup that the Father has given me?'" Notice that Jesus did not forbid the sword from EVER being used. Rather, he told Peter to "sheath" it. In other words, put it in its proper place. To go further, to put it at peace. When a sword is sheathed, there is peace. When it is drawn, it is a time of blood.
Understanding Jesus’ words to Peter requires an understanding of what Jesus was trying to accomplish at that moment. Jesus was out to get killed. He knew it was coming. He wasn’t running from it. He didn’t seek a negotiated settlement. He was there to die.
Peter thought of Jesus as a political Messiah. Thus, Peter, acting like a good soldier, was out to protect his king. Only when Peter realized Jesus intended to die, and that he could die too, did Peter flee (along with the rest of the disciples). Peter’s use of the sword fulfilled prophecy and had a place, but not in the kingdom Jesus was building. Thus, weapons are a temporary necessity in this life, but not in Jesus’ kingdom. Nowhere in scripture is the kingdom of God ever advanced by the sword, or in our case, the gun.
So, in self-defense there are restrictions on how we may use a weapon. Such restriction revolves around intent. We may intend to harm, but not intend to kill. Except in the cases of war or capital punishment, intending to kill is murder. Also, for the sake of the Gospel we may never use a weapon of any kind for any reason. When faced with harm or death for the Gospel we have two choices, to flee or to endure, even to death. Retaliation in the name of the Gospel is not ideal, or permitted, but is forbidden.
WEAPONS AND CONSCIENCE
Allow me to use myself as an example of a person who supports 2nd Amendment rights, but does not own a firearm. I have two issues which are matters of conscience. First, I am mentally ill.
In 2008 I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder. Without proper medication I am susceptible to uncontrolled thoughts, great emotional rage, and uncontrollable mania. As long as I remain medicated I am able to control my thoughts and manic behavior. But the medicine is not perfect. Nor can I trust my behavior if I were to lose or go off my meds. For this reason, as a matter of conscience and wisdom, I do not own a firearm for fear of what I might do with it if my mental state becomes uncontrolled. This is for the protection of people around me as much as myself.
Second, as a Christian, and as a missionary, I would struggle greatly if I ended up killing someone in self defense. I am keenly aware that to do so means that my hands would send someone to a godless eternity from which there is no escape. Granted, an attacker is responsible for his actions, but I don’t wish to be the agent that facilitates their entrance into Hell. A number of years ago I was involved in something that resulted in five people being killed. While I was not directly involved in their deaths or did anything illegal, I have often wondered if my actions helped contribute to the circumstances of their deaths. I don’t know the answer and it haunts me to this day. I would rather be killed than be the one who kills.
You may have a struggle in your conscience about owning or using a firearm. In such a case, never violate your conscience. However, keep in mind that you must also be willing to accept the consequences of your conscience. If you are ever attacked, you risk your life by not owning a firearm. If you are willing to accept such a price, then follow your conscience.
However, while you may follow your conscience, you may not impose your conscience upon others. I do not own a firearm. But neither do I impose my conscience regarding firearms on others, especially when it seems the biblical evidence is in favor of personal weapon ownership and proper use.
Weapons ownership in the Bible is not prescribed as a right, but is permissible (This is a biblical comment, not a political comment. Clearly, bearing arms is a right under the Constitution). As such, proper training and use is in order. If you are convicted of your need to own a firearm, keeping these principles in mind will keep you balanced in your approach to the issues surrounding self-defense.