What Does the Bible Say about Self-Defense?

Security is important in the modern world. Cybersecurity, advanced technological home safety systems, and knowledge of self-defense tactics are abounding in society. Christians also seek security in their churches and home, with self-defense classes sometimes offered by churches.

Although it can be easy to make assumptions about safety, the first concern for the follower of Christ should be what the Lord says about any subject, including personal safety and defense.

Relevant passages about self-defense can be found in Scripture, which includes specific statements and examples of faithful followers of God engaging in the protection of themselves and others.

What Does Turn the Other Cheek Mean?

One of the main verses involved in the discussion of self-defense includes Matthew 5:39 when Jesus talks about turning the other cheek. 

The Lord stated, “’You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’ But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also” (Matthew 5:38-39, NIV).

Many Christians read this verse and wonder if Jesus means that they should allow themselves to be harmed and not defend themselves.

When examining this verse, it is important to understand that Jesus is directly referring to Old Testament passages that deal with the law of retaliation (Exodus 21:24; Leviticus 24:20).

Based on these verses, God intended to limit the retaliation involved with wrong acts. Christ affirms this but focuses on people willing to give up their rights and endure slights against themselves.

Many commentators emphasize that the slap on the face could be referring to an insult, but even a slap on the face is not life-threatening. Instead of responding in retaliation, Christ urges a selfless attitude by turning the other cheek and going the extra mile (Matthew 5:39-41).

This teaching of non-retaliation is reflected in the writings of the apostles as well. Believers are reminded, “Do not repay anyone evil for evil” (Romans 12:17, NIV) and “do not repay evil with evil or insult with insult” (1 Peter 3:9, NIV).

These verses are not about self-defense, but rather about retaliation. As Jesus taught, Christians are not to offensively retaliate against someone for being wronged.

Scriptural Examples of Self-Defense

The Bible speaks against vengeful retaliation but does not forbid self-defense. There are many examples of people who defended themselves against attack.

For instance, Esther requested that the Jews be able to defend themselves against the murderous attack by the Persians, which was planned by the villain, Haman (Esther 8:3-6).

The Jews were allowed to fight against their attackers and successfully defended themselves from the intended annihilation, showing God’s work in the events to protect and preserve His chosen people (Esther 8:11; 9:1-2). Jewish people continue to observe a holiday, called Purim, to remember the events recorded in the Book of Esther (Esther 9:18-32).

In a similar fashion, the Israelites armed themselves for protection when they rebuilt the wall around Jerusalem under the guidance of Nehemiah (Nehemiah 4:11-18). In fact, Scripture records that the Israelites “did their work with one hand and held a weapon in the other” (Nehemiah 4:17, NIV).

The builders of the wall even wore their swords as they worked (Nehemiah 4:18). While the Israelites were ready to defend themselves if their enemies tried to attack them to stop them from rebuilding the wall, they did not actively war against their enemies.

Persecution and Self-Defense

While self-defense is needed in many circumstances, persecution for the cause of Christ is dealt with differently in Scripture. Throughout the New Testament, persecution for faith in Jesus is seen as a privilege for believers to endure.

Jesus said, “‘Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you’” (Matthew 5:10-12, NIV).

Enduring suffering because of one’s faith in Jesus will bring about heavenly rewards. The disciples recognized this truth after they were flogged for preaching the Name of Jesus (Acts 5:40-41).

Generally, most followers of Christ described in the Bible willingly endured suffering because of their trust in Jesus. There are times when people fled from persecution, but even this was used by God to spread the gospel (Acts 8:1, 4).

At other times, persecution was avoided because of its hindrance to the message of Jesus’ death and resurrection. For instance, Paul deliberately defended himself against being whipped by claiming the rights of a Roman citizen to avoid unnecessary delay (Acts 22:24-25).

Thus, at certain times seeking defense against persecution is advisable and needed. However, most instances of persecution involve a deliberate decision to faithfully follow Christ and give up personal rights.

Love for Jesus and the passionate need to spread His message to the world is so important that His followers should be willing to lay down their lives (John 15:13; 1 John 3:16).

Suffering persecution for the cause of Christ is a privilege since Jesus suffered and laid down His life to free the world from slavery to sin and death (John 10:18; Romans 8:2).

Protecting Oneself and Others

The Bible does support self-defense. Many examples are given in Scripture of followers of God seeking to protect themselves and others from harm. While Christ does denounce retaliation and revenge, He does not prohibit acting in self-defense. Therefore, believers are not sinning when they defend themselves or others from harm and suffering.

2 thoughts on “What Does the Bible Say about Self-Defense?

  1. Tom

    This website gave a great summary on personal self defense. https://www.gotquestions.org/self-defense.html

    “The Bible gives no all-encompassing statement on self-defense. Some passages seem to speak of God’s people being pacifistic (Proverbs 25:21–22; Matthew 5:39; Romans 12:17). Yet there are other passages that approve of self-defense. Under what circumstances is personal self-defense appropriate?

    The proper use of self-defense has to do with wisdom, understanding, and tact. In Luke 22:36, Jesus tells His remaining disciples, “If you don’t have a sword, sell your cloak and buy one.” Jesus knew that now was the time when His followers would be threatened, and He upheld their right to self-defense. Just a short time later, Jesus is arrested, and Peter takes a sword and cuts off someone’s ear. Jesus rebukes Peter for that act (verses 49–51). Why? In his zeal to defend the Lord, Peter was standing in the way of God’s will. Jesus had told His disciples multiple times that He must be arrested, put on trial, and die (e.g., Matthew 17:22–23). In other words, Peter acted unwisely in that situation. We must have wisdom regarding when to fight and when not to.

    Exodus 22 gives some clues about God’s attitude toward self-defense: “If a thief is caught breaking in at night and is struck a fatal blow, the defender is not guilty of bloodshed; but if it happens after sunrise, the defender is guilty of bloodshed” (Exodus 22:2–3). Two basic principles taught in this text are the right to own private property and the right to defend that property. The full exercise of the right to self-defense, however, depended on the situation. No one should be too quick to use deadly force against another, even someone who means to do him harm. If someone was set upon by a thief in the middle of the night and, in the confusion of the moment the would-be thief was killed, the Law did not charge the homeowner with murder. But, if the thief was caught in the house during the day, when the homeowner was unlikely to be awoken from sleep, then the Law forbade the killing of the thief. Essentially, the Law said that homeowners shouldn’t be quick to kill or attack thieves in their home. Both situations could be considered self-defense, but deadly force was expected to be a last resort, used only in the event of a panicked “surprise attack” scenario where the homeowner is likely to be confused and disoriented. In the case of a nighttime attack, the Law granted the homeowner the benefit of the doubt that, apart from the darkness and confusion of the attack, he would not intentionally use lethal force against a thief. Even in the case of self-defense against a thief, a godly person was expected to try to restrain the assailant rather than immediately resort to killing him.

    Paul engaged in self-defense on occasion, although non-violently. When he was about to be flogged by the Romans in Jerusalem, Paul quietly informed the centurion with the scourge that he, Paul, was a Roman citizen. The authorities were immediately alarmed and began to treat Paul differently, knowing they had violated Roman law by even putting him in chains. Paul had used a similar defense in Philippi—after he was flogged—in order to secure an official apology from those who had violated his rights (Acts 16:37–39).

    The persistent widow in Jesus’ parable kept pounding on the judge’s door with the repeated plea, “Grant me justice against my adversary” (Luke 18:3). This widow was not about to give up and let her enemy take advantage of her; through the proper channels, she pursued self-defense.

    Jesus’ command to “turn the other cheek” (Matthew 5:39) has to do with our response to personal slights and offenses. Some situations may call for self-defense, but not retaliation in kind. The context of Jesus’ command is His teaching against the idea of “eye for eye, and tooth for tooth” (verse 38). Our self-defense is not a vengeful reaction to an offense. In fact, many offenses can simply be absorbed in forbearance and love.

    The Bible never forbids self-defense, and believers are allowed to defend themselves and their families. But the fact that we are permitted to defend ourselves does not necessarily mean we must do so in every situation. Knowing God’s heart through reading His Word and relying on “the wisdom that comes from heaven” (James 3:17) will help us know how to best respond in situations that might call for self-defense.

  2. John Ferrante

    Amen to that , that’s why I became a marine, to be a physical warrior as well as a spiritual warrior….🙏


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