Some Christians, especially after a horrible incident—like the Newtown shooting at Sandy Hook public elementary school or the Aurora Movie Theater, or Columbine or Virginia Tech—wonder if it’s right for them to support guns. They ask things like “Shouldn’t Christians love their enemies? Why should they support guns at all?” and “why are American Christians so violence craved that they are adamant supporters of guns?”
What I want to do in this article is highlight what I think is a Biblical position regarding guns. I’m sorry that I can’t deal with the question directly. With so many unspoken assumptions, I have to get to the text through the fog of misinformation.
What is a gun?
The world we live in colors our definition of a gun. By “world” I don’t mean the planet. I mean our culture, our society, our education. We see guns in movies or TV shows and without knowing learn strange lessons. That stinks. That means many of us have absorbed the story arc of movies, television shows, and the rest of the media.
That’s the reason we have working definitions like “a weapon that was created for no other purpose than to kill.” which, apparently (the assumption hints), automatically negates the usage of guns. In other words: guns were made for doing bad so they are bad.
Let’s grant that for a second. Why is a gun any worse than any other weapon? I’d like to see a weapon that wasn’t made to kill. The sword might function as a shovel but its purpose and refinement was to kill. The bow and arrow might be used as a single key guitar, but its purpose and refinement was to kill. Same thing with the spear. Dagger. Dart. Sling.
But, not granting the definition we wind up asking “kill what?”
So let’s get the definition out of the way, according to Merriam-Webster: a piece of ordnance usually (though not necessarily) with a high muzzle velocity and comparatively flat trajectory.
Basically, it’s a device that launches things. It can launch water. It can launch rubber. It can launch lead. It can launch pellets. It can launch bean bags. It can even launch potatoes.
The gun, by its nature, has broad applications. You might have a gun that fires atoms at other atoms or a gun that fires explosive devices at oncoming armored vehicles.
The purpose in each of the cases is different. Of course the critic would point out that I am conflating things—but the point here is to unveil the unspoken assumption about the term “gun”. If we instead focused on a specific type of gun we still have all sorts of assumptions being tossed out of the way.
You can have guns that are meant for hunting birds—in which case you are killing a bird. Or you can have guns that are meant for stopping tanks—in which case you are stopping the operation of a tank within a military environment. Or you can have guns that fire very rapidly—in which case they are to suppress enemy fire by either causing the enemy to seek cover beneath the hail of bullets. Or you have guns that are meant to fire from close up—to stop either an oncoming man or bear. Or you have guns that are meant to fire from very far away—to hunt animals or enemies.
Guns, in dangerous encounters (like military situations or criminal encounters) are always equalizers of strength. A gun neutralizes the imbalance between parties in an encounter. I’ll have to illustrate what I mean by that.
The long-range rifle in the hand of an expert shooter negates the strength of the charging lion. A short female police officer who carries around 100 pounds of gear and a gun neutralizes the strength of the muscular two hundred pound thug. A gun neutralizes the imbalance of strength between the elderly grocer behind the counter and the angry youth with the waved knife. And so on.
A gun, therefore, follows in the long history of ordnance through time. Swords had multiple uses, but one of their major uses was as an imbalance neutralizer. You didn’t have to carry around the heaviest sword to still be able to do damage. A bow and arrow had multiple uses but one of the major uses was as an imbalance neutralizer in battle: an enemy who could easily beat you in man to man combat is best handled at a distance before he got that close. The crossbow eventually was an even better option since it involved mechanics to equalize the strength required to fire a bow long distances.
What is self-defense?
Murder mystery dramas tell us that “self-defense” is a justification for murder. But that’s not true.
Self-defense is the act of defending oneself, one’s property, a close relative, or others. It doesn’t necessarily involve killing but it involves the act of self-protection if one fears they (or those they are protecting) are in mortal danger. So self-defense could happen if you’re being attacked or your child is being attacked. Historically, you can defend yourself (or your property or your relative) with your fists, with a bat, with a sword, or with a gun.
So if you are with a friend, and your friend is attacked by a dog and you use a bat to stop the dog, you are still acting in self-defense.
What does the Bible say about guns?
Obviously guns weren’t invented when the Bible was written. We won’t find verses that deal with a device that fires with a high muzzle velocity or even a relatively flat trajectory.
But we will find that the Bible deals with weapons, self-defense, and the proper mindset with these things.
Nehemiah, when rebuilding the walls of Jerusalem for example, had the people work on the walls while armed. The builders walked about with swords on their sides, and trumpeters were nearby to give a war call if danger reared its head. And the weapons weren’t there simply for show (even though the show would function as a deterrent to an extant). Nehemiah tells the people that when they hear the trumpet the people are to rally where they are called and God would fight for them. This is a poetic way of saying that God would be on their side. And even with that thinking that God was on their side, Nehemiah and the Jews refused to take off their weapon at any time while their defenses lay so bare (Nehemiah 4:17-23).
The Bible depicts God as having and using weapons. Okay, yeah, this is a metaphor for God fighting or judging but—this is key—the weapons aren’t evil on account of being weapons. God is using them! (Deu 32:42; 2 Sam 22:15; Psalms 7:12-13; 18:14; 21:12; 64:7; Hab. 3:11; Zec 9:14)
And there are portions of the Bible where the people of God are worse off because they don’t have weapons. The Philistines, notes the historian, ensured that blacksmiths in Israel were scarce so that they wouldn’t make weapons. (1Sam 13:19) This was common practice among enemies when they wanted to make sure the people were subdued and unable to defend themselves (Judges 5:8).
Which is why the Psalmist can thank God for the Psalmists skill with weapons. We find him thanking God for training him in the art of war so that he can fight in battles. But not only is he trained, he thanks God for the strength to use the weapon in battle(Psalm 18:34; 144:1)!
This isn’t just Old Testament stuff! Hop down to the Revelation of Christ to John where we see Christ armed to the teeth (Rev 1:16). Not only is he armed, he threatens to bring war against his enemies (Rev 2:16). Not only does he threaten, we eventually see him fighting his enemies alone (Rev 19:15,21). Not only does he fight them alone, at one point the scene is so violent that it depicts Christ crushing his enemies like grapes in a winepress (Rev 14:14-20).
Fine, someone will say, that’s just Apocalyptic—a handy literary device that can be used to brush away just about anything in the text. But weapons are found in other places in the New Testament.
Christ had earlier told the disciples that they weren’t to be concerned with their ministry since God would provide for them. They didn’t even have to take money pouches. (Luke 10:4). But, before Christ died, he tells them that now they are to carry money pouches, extra cloaks, and to carry swords. And if they don’t have a sword, they should sell a coat and go buy one (Luke 22:36). Christ is giving instruction to get a weapon.
Now, the disciples immediately show Christ that they have two swords and he doesn’t berate them for it. They have had the weapons and now they’re being encouraged that they will need to carry the weapons (Luke 22:38).
They wind up using one of the two weapons at Christ’s arrest and Christ has some words with Peter about doing the thing. He tells him that the Kingdom of God isn’t going to be established by the sword. Rather, he points out, that (one) the taking up violence as a way of life will find their end in violence and (two) that Christ isn’t powerless. In other words, Christ was willingly going to the cross as part of God’s plan—it was no accident (Matthew 26:54). In which case, the sword has no purpose in expanding God’s kingdom.
But then what does Christ tell Peter to do with the sword? Throw it away? Destroy it? No, he tells him to keep it and put it away in his sheath (Matt 26:52). And to those who came at him with weapons, he doesn’t berate them for the wickedness of weaponry but because they had a chance to take him whenever they wanted and didn’t do so until they were hidden from the public eye (Matt26:55).
Summarizing point: The Bible doesn’t mention guns but it does mention weapons. Although there are many places where weapons are used as forces of evil, it also speaks about weapons in a positive light—often used by God and even encouraged by Christ to be part of the Christian’s earthly possessions.
What does the Bible say about self-defense?
The Bible depicts God’s concern with the lives of the righteous and the innocent. In general, there is an aspect to God’s dealings with people that consistently reflects that concern. A bull gores a person and the animal is to be killed (Exodus 21:28). But if the animal had a history of being out of control, then the ox and the owner are both put to death (Ex 21:29). If two guys are fighting and they accidentally bump into a pregnant woman and cause her to lose the baby, then it’s serious indeed (Ex 21:22): eye for eye, tooth for tooth, life for life.
Very often, Christians misappropriate Jesus’ words about turning the other cheek (Matt 5:38-39) to mean that Christians shouldn’t be defending themselves but rather turning the other cheek.
But this is in direct opposition to God’s concern with the innocent. That woman who is hurt by the fighting men should just turn the other cheek? Or the person who has been gored by the historically violent bull should just offer the other cheek?
Rather, Christ’s words should be read in context. Yes Christ cites the words that are being misused by the people of that day (Matt 5:38) but then goes on to give an example of a personal offense: a slap on the face. Wayne Grudem points out that slapping a person on the right cheek would be done with a backhanded slap—the most offensive slap. I personally think it can get even more personally offensive. The Left Hand is often the place of insult or blame so a person can slap someone else with the left hand and strike the right cheek and it depicts the same thing.
Christ says that this person is personally offending you, then turn the other cheek. They want to sue you to take your shirt, give him your coat too. They impose on you to go with them a mile, so you go with them two.
Christ doesn’t say if the person wants to rape your wife you offer your daughter and son as well. He doesn’t say that the person coming at you to puncture your left lung you should then offer your right lung as well.
So in one case that is not about self-defense, David is berated by Shimmei and he does nothing about it. In fact, he prevents his soldiers from doing anything to the man (2Sa 16:7-12). But earlier on, when Saul attacked David (several times) David didn’t offer the other cheek or ignore the threat but he ran away (1 Sam 19:10). When Paul throws his spear David didn’t hand it back to him to have another go; rather he ducked (1 Samuel 16:23) then ran away.
Likewise, Paul didn’t allow himself to be killed (even though he went through a fair share of near-death experiences). When he had the opportunity to run (and thus save his own neck), he would (2 Cor 11:32-33).
Heck, Jesus didn’t allow himself to be killed before his time but conveniently got away (John 8:58; 10:39).
That’s why the Bible, when speaking about actual injury coming upon the weak, it depicts concern and proper responsibility. Psalm 82:4 tells us that the weak and needy must be rescued from the hand of the wicked. Proverbs 24:11says that we are to deliver those who are being taken away to death—that is not the wicked, but the weak who are being slaughtered.
Ezekiel 33 is helpful in that it paints the duty of the Watchman. If he sees the enemy coming up with swords and weapons, he is to warn the people (a concern for the lives of the innocent). Then, those who hear the sound of the warning horn are to act (Eze 33:4) to save their own lives (Ez 33:5). The Watchman then, must offer a warning otherwise he is responsible for every lost life (Ez 33:6). God tells Israel that he doesn’t take joy in the death of the wicked and would rather that the wicked turn from their wicked ways and live (Ez 33:11). But if not, then they will die in their iniquity (Ez 33:9).
Summarizing Point: Rather than deprecating the life of the innocent, the Bible has a strong emphasis on self-defense from mindless brutality and killing. The weak are to be protected either by flight or by defense.
Should a gun be used in self-defense?
Based on the first point, a gun is merely another variation of an old weapon. Based on the second point, self-defense doesn’t necessarily mean killing though it does mean protecting self or others. Based on the third and fourth points, the Bible supports self-defense with the weapon. Therefore, it surely support self-defense with modern weaponry.
To which the response might be “But guns kill people. Unlike a sword that could greatly injure—like the lost ear of the official—a gun’s stopping power is deadly. As the Bible says ‘Thou shalt not kill!’” (Exo 20:13).
The Scripture passages above illustrate that the defense of the weak surely will result in the death of the wicked (Ezekiel 33) unless the wicked repents from their wrong. Indeed, all the passages above where the weak are acting in defense they are doing more than simply parrying attacks: they’re killing.
Two questions then arise: is killing wrong and is God therefore mandating something that is wrong from his people?
Mind you, this topic can get expansive pretty quick and it would take looking at a whole mess of original languages sort of thing. And we would probably even have to delve with topics of killing women and children during war, the death penalty, and the enforcement of law—all of which take me far afield from answering the question if a gun should be used in self-defense. I would highly recommend reading Paul Copan’s Is God a Moral Monster and Wayne Grudem’s Politics According to the Bible to get into all of those topics (including this one at hand).
I will generally say that the Bible differentiates between murder, manslaughter (Numbers 35:6-34), accidental death (Deuteronomy 19:1-13) and killing in war—just like we do in our society. God places a very high price on human life in that murder results in capital punishment (Genesis 9). The Bible also shows that there are consequences to leading a life that is embroiled in violence (1 Chronicles 28:3, 8; Matt 26:52).
The Bible also differentiates between the above and killing in self-defense. Note Exodus 22:2-3 where killing a thief that breaks in at night absolve the person of manslaughter but if it happens when a warning could be issued and the thief apprehended, then the defender is guilty.
Nehemiah wisely sets up armed guards to defend the people from attack (Nehemiah 4:8-23). Nehemiah does this while fully trusting in God (Nehemiah 4:9). In Esther 8-9, defending with killing devices is even built into the law to defend from the state mandate to slaughter a specific people!
All of which indicates that weapons which kill can and should be used in self-defense.
Summarizing point: Far from condemning killing in self-defense, the Bible supports that self-defense might entail death. Bows are used in killing and should be used. Swords are used in killing and should be used. Therefore Guns can and should be used.
In the end I think we can safely say that a Christian has no Biblical ground for rejecting guns. Indeed, the Christian has no Biblical ground for refusing to own a gun. And a Christian would be right to use a gun in self-defense even if it results in killing the person who is coming at them, even if it includes the State.
Having a gun to do these things doesn’t mean a person isn’t trusting God. In each of the passages above we see that God is even behind the strength and resolve to use the weapon in defense. Indeed, even with weapons in hand, our ultimate defense is God (Psalm 44:6-7; 127:1; Nehemiah 4:14; 1Sa 17:47). Indeed, the Bible doesn’t encourage revenge but leaves vengeance to the Lord (Rom 12:19) but even in that case the vengeance is mediated by God acting through the state (Rom 13:1-2).
Even though the statistics that list death by guns don’t take a lot into account, especially those that list the death of children (including in children 18 year olds) , perhaps in my situation I think it would be wiser not to have guns in the home of my children. Not because I have a problem with guns or because of the vaunted statistics but I understand my own situation and am uncomfortable with how my children would act with them.
If I were in a different situation, perhaps in a very bad neighborhood, I would think it wiser to have a gun to protect the home. Or if I were in an isolated location I would also consider having it since the police might take longer to get to our home.
If I lived in a country where Christians are killed, I would probably consider owning a gun—unless in that situation owning a gun could be an excuse for further persecution.
All these different situations reflect that this is really a matter of wisdom.
Should Christians have a problem with guns? Not really. Can Christians use guns in self-defense even if it results in the death of the wicked? Yes. Should you personally, in your situation, own a gun? I don’t know since I don’t know your situation. In some cases it might mean yes, and in others no.
So should a Christian support guns? Yeah. But should each individual Christian own a gun? I don’t know since I can’t answer for you: I’m not in your situation.
I do think that if a Christian owns a gun he should do so putting his or her trust in God and wisely get trained in the use and safety of the weapon. Take classes. Go to the firing range. Learn how to do it. Make it a fluid motion. Train your family in safety with the weapon. Lock the weapon so that children or criminals can’t get to it.
There are other questions that can be asked about gun restriction laws and those take me way off topic. In general, I don’t think that gun restriction laws are effective nor wise and rather disarm those who obey the government leaving the wicked and the law-breaker in a position of strength.
References and Further Reading
- Grudem, W. A. (2010). Politics according to the Bible: A comprehensive resource for understanding modern political issues in light of Scripture. Grand Rapids, Mich: Zondervan.
- Copan, P (2011) Is God A Moral Monster? Making Sense of the Old Testament God
- The directive to buy a sword deserves a measure of separate consideration. Lined up as it is with purse, bag, and sandals, we can eliminate at once any idea that zealot sympathies are coming to expression with the commendation of the sword. The sword is thought of as part of the equipment required for the self-sufficiency of any traveler in the Roman world. Nothing more than protection of one’s person is in view. Similarly there can be no thought that the swords might be used to make a defense of Jesus (as Gillmann, LS 9  142–53) or might be for use in an anticipated eschatological armed struggle (as Bartsch, NTS 20 [1973–74] 190–203). –Nolland, J. (1998). Vol. 35C: Luke 18:35–24:53. Word Biblical Commentary (1076). Dallas: Word, Incorporated.
- Crime, The Christian And Capital Justice by J. Daryl Charles. The Evangelical Theological Society. (1995; 2002). Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society Volume 38 (38:441). The Evangelical Theological Society.
- The Christian and War: A Matter of Personal Conscience — David R. Plaster Grace Theological Journal. 1998
- Wolfgang Musculus and the Allegory of Malchus’s Ear — Craig S. Farmer. Westminster Theological Journal. 1998
- Wallis, J. (2005). God’s politics: Why the right gets it wrong and the left doesn’t get it.