Ethical Studies From the Christian Perspective
Christians and Guns:
The Biblical View
by Gregory B. Dill
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Editor's Note: You may or may not agree with this article, but it is soundly Biblical. On October 1, 1998, my own son Stephen found a gun that a Christian left carelessly lying around and died because of it. If you have opposing views to this article, please feel free to write me as I will post Biblical and non flammatory studies. - Pastor David
The title of this article alone is enough to solicit much attention and interest. However, it is the issue itself that might strike a chord with you as the reader, no matter what your social or political stand might be, albeit liberal, moderate, or conservative. At the time of this writing, the topic of guns and gun ownership are seemingly the primary issues at the forefront of our society today, perhaps as a direct result of the recent tragedies that have occurred at our public schools, i.e. Columbine, Jonesboro, and Padukah, just to name a few. These unfortunate incidents have sparked a recent interest and debate into the potential need to impose government mandated limitations, provisions, and regulations on private gun ownership. As a result, similar to many other issues, much of our nation has become increasingly divided concerning this dilemma. You are either pro-guns or no-guns. This issue is the focus of this study.
Before I begin, I wish to clarify a few things. I myself am a conservative, born-again, believer in Jesus Christ. Politically speaking, I am generally considered a conservative, and in some instances, an ultra-conservative. However, if there were ever any one issue that I personally would be considered a liberal with, then this is it. Guns and gun ownership. I SIMPLY HATE GUNS. I wish they never existed. Oh, I have tried, tested, and shot my fair share of guns throughout my lifetime, don't be mistaken. I spent much of my childhood shooting anything from little BB guns to a powerful, 12-gauge, side-by-side, double-barreled, shotgun. As an adult, after having served in the military for nearly 7 years, shooting a gun was practically unavoidable. I had even acquired the level of expert marksmanship on both the M-16 rifle and the .38 handgun earning my awards and ribbons for each.
Up until now, for the most part of my life never did I think it was wrong to own or even shoot a gun. After all, they're fun to shoot, I won't deny that. But, for the most part of my life, there was always a still small voice that would on occasion whisper into my heart asking me, is this right? There was something about holding a weapon that is able to literally take away the lives of dozens of people with a simple pull of the trigger, whether it be by accident or in times of war that made me often squeamish inside. Therefore, as a result of a closer examination of both my faith, and what Jesus taught concerning the use of force and the owning of a deadly weapon, I have totally abandoned my belief in owning or even using a gun be it for self-defense and/or recreational purposes.
I am not a pacifist. Although I am pacified in many ways, yet aggressive in others. I believe there is a time to be passive and a time to be aggressive. As difficult as it would be in my obedience to Christ, if someone were to ever attempt to strike or hit me, I would protect myself and do all that I can to simply walk away rather than try to exacerbate the issue by striking back. I would additionally make all necessary attempts to make peace and restitution with any enemy.
"You have heard that it was said, 'Eye for an eye, and tooth for tooth.' But I tell you, Do not resist an evil person. If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. And if someone wants to sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well. If someone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles. Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you." (Matthew 5:38-42 NIV)
If however, someone were to ever intentionally break in and attempt to hurt or kill any member of my family, I would do all in my power to restrain the perpetrator even if it meant killing him. I am clearly a firm believer of self-defense. I believe the Bible clearly allows for any man to defend and protect his or her belongings and possessions, including their own family. This is called theocratic force. Exodus 22:2 gives us full justification in killing a man if he intends on stealing, or killing another man.
"If a thief is caught breaking in and is struck so that he dies, the defender is not guilty of bloodshed." (Exodus 22:2 NIV)
In the case of war, in most cases I would refuse to fight only unless our country is in grave danger of being attacked or harmed by an opposing enemy. With that, I would probably be labeled as a conscientious objector. The reason being is that I believe many of the wars and battles this nation have fought in, could've simply been avoided if our bureaucratic government simply wouldn't have gotten involved. As patriotic as I am and as a member of the armed services during the Gulf War, I feel we had no business in being over there, since I believe it was all about a natural commodity and resource we call OIL. Likewise, we had no reason in being over in Somalia or Bosnia-Herzegovina. I also believe we shouldn't have been involved in the recent fighting in Albania or Kosovo either. Our duty as Americans is not to act as the world's policemen and jump into action and possibly risk the lives of many men and women of our armed forces the minute a rogue rebel or dictator rises to power in some foreign country or territory. The original intent for the U.S. to ever get involved in any war or conflict is only to protect the best interests of America, as in the case of Hitler and the Japanese empire during WW II. Hitler and his war machine were rapidly spreading throughout the European continent, savagely and brutally destroying anything in it's path. His final aim was to make his way to America with his vast anti-Semitic, Nazi empire. Likewise, Japan made their way here onto American soil killing many innocent Americans at the bombing of Pearl Harbor in December of 1940. These are all legitimate and justified reasons in getting involved in an all out war, to protect the best interests of America. That is what our forefathers established, not I. As you can well see, I am a believer of protecting our country from any invading army and would gladly help take part in the protection of this great nation. The intent of this article is not about self-defense, or war. It is about guns and their ownership.
The issue concerning guns and gun ownership have entered into our churches as well. I am terribly disappointed and saddened to see many Christians loyally embrace and advocate the use of guns and their ownership. There are many Christians, primarily westernized Christians, who firmly believe in the right to bear arms and might even own one or two of them themselves. One of the primary reasons Christians hold to this is because it is a Constitutional right established over 200 years ago. As ingenious of a government system we have, and as much of a trust and faith I myself place in it, it is still capable of much error, because it was a system devised not by God but by man. At the time of the framing of our Constitution (1770's), the men and women of this country were seemingly under a constant threat of an invading foreign army and attack, i.e. the French and the British. Thus the need for the average citizen to arm themselves against such an opposing force was absolutely necessary and vital. Times have since changed, today there is no such threat awaiting to happen upon us as it was then.
On the contrary, there are many Christians who firmly believe that Christ taught against the use of force and thus the unnecessary need to own any weaponry of any sorts whatsoever. What side is correct? What evidence can we possibly glean from the Bible to support either of the two sides of this divisive issue? The purpose of this article has been written to examine what the Bible has to say concerning the ownership of weaponry. Let us begin our trek into the holy writ of God's Word to examine this most controversial issue.
The Bible is very clear about the issue of weapons. Many Christians today who embrace the right to bear arms will generally make reference to the many Old Testament passages and stories of how God used his own people to destroy the many peoples that inhabited the land of Canaan by use of force. God instructed many men to go up against numerous opposing forces many times throughout the entire Old Testament. Agreeably so, the Old Testament is replete with such occurrences, I will not deny that. But what about the New Testament? With the exception of all but one verse, the supportive passages are curiously much more difficult to find. In fact, there are many more passages supporting passivity versus resistance found throughout the New Testament. Perhaps it is as a result of the new covenant found through Jesus Christ? The one New Testament verse many pro-gun advocates use to support their Biblical justification of bearing a gun is found in Luke 22:35-36, which reads:
"Then Jesus asked them, 'When I sent you without purse, bag or sandals, did you lack anything?' 'Nothing,' they answered. He said to them, 'But now if you have a purse, take it, and also a bag; and if you don't have a sword, sell your cloak and buy one."
Many Christians erroneously equate the sword with a gun. A gun is much more complex and deadlier than any sword. A gun is capable of killing many more people than a simple sword can. Why Jesus made this statement remains somewhat of a mystery. This sword could've been a literal sword indeed. However, there has been much speculation that he was speaking of a spiritual sword as mentioned in many subsequent passages throughout the New Testament (Ephesians 6:17 and Hebrews 4:12). If he in fact was telling the disciples to use a literal sword in order to protect themselves against those who he knew would persecute them, then why is there no Biblical account of such an occurrence? Many men of Christ who were persecuted and tortured throughout the New Testament did not use such a sword or any form of protection whatsoever. Take for example, Stephen, the first follower of Christ to die as a martyr. There is no Biblical account of him resorting to a sword to protect himself (Acts 7:54-60) Additionally, James was the first disciple to be killed, again, there is no Biblical reference of him using a sword to defend himself either (Acts 12:2). Many times both Peter and Paul were arrested and brutally tortured and thrown into prison, there is absolutely no Biblical account of either one of them taking up a sword to defend themselves. I believe many Christians jump to this supposed supportive verse too quickly without first examining the evidence. They grossly distort this scripture verse to back their unBiblical justification in using their guns. As we shall see and conclude, Christ did in fact clearly teach against the use of weaponry and force and instead taught more about being peacemakers of the world.
As born-again, transformed, believers in Christ, we must first recognize what our weapons and battles truly are. We must recognize that our battles are not the battles we fight in the earthly realm, but rather of a spiritual nature.
"For though we walk in the flesh, we do not war after the flesh: For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal, but mighty through God to the pulling down of strong holds." (2 Corinthians 10:3-4 KJV)
As the scriptures clearly show, we should not concern ourselves with the weapons of war in this world, but instead concern ourselves with the weapons of another world, a spiritual warfare.
Just what exactly should our spiritual warfare consist of? What should our armament contain? M-16's? 30-30's? 410 shotguns? .38 specials? 7 mm rifles? .22's? No. None of these. For these are all temporal and mundane instruments of warfare that achieve no eternal purpose or glorious end. Paul clearly outlines for us what our weaponry should in fact consist of.
"Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand. Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace. In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the saints." (Ephesians 6:13-18 NIV)
Our weapons should consist of the following elements: the belt of truth, the breastplate of righteousness, feet fitted with the gospel of peace, the shield of faith, the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit. Nowhere do I see a .38 or an AK-47. The sword of the Spirit is not a literal sword but is in fact more efficient than a sword or any other weapon of man for that matter, for it is the Word of God.
"For the word of God is living and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart." (Hebrews 4:12 NIV)
I have once read of a miraculous story about an old, innocent, Christian, woman who at night was faced by a group of thugs and gangsters ready to kill her. She began praying and quoting scripture and the thugs immediately took off running on their feet. (1) Wow, the amazing power of God's word!
As both a husband and a father, I often find myself being concerned with and often fear for my wife and children's life and safety. Sometimes I'm probably over protective. I don't dare allow my wife to travel at night while alone. I'm even apprehensive about letting her out with our baby in the middle of the day for the fear of being mugged, kidnapped, or even raped. I never allow any of my children out of my sight or outside of arm's length if we are out in a public establishment for fear of abduction or kidnapping. Perhaps this is just a natural breed instinct that all men possess. However, Jesus tells us that we should not fear those that can kill by a gun, knife, a club, or whatever, but instead, the only one we should fear is God himself.
"I tell you, my friends, do not be afraid of those who kill the body and after that can do no more. But I will show you whom you should fear: Fear him who, after the killing of the body, has power to throw you into hell. Yes, I tell you, fear him."(Luke 12:4-5 NIV)
Fear God and fear Him alone. Not the criminals, not the thugs or gangsters, not the corrupt police, but God. What about using your weapon? When should it be proper to use your weapon? Perhaps the best Biblical example that can be given regarding this issue is given to us just as Jesus was being arrested by the authorities. Just shortly after Jesus was praying in the garden of Gethsemane he was betrayed by Judas with a kiss. He was then arrested.
"While he was still speaking, Judas, one of the twelve, arrived. With him was a large crowd armed with swords and clubs, sent from the chief priests and the elders of the people. Now the betrayer had arranged a signal with them: 'The one I kiss is the man; arrest him.' Going at once to Jesus, Judas said, 'Greetings, Rabbi!' and kissed him. Jesus replied, 'Friend, do what you came for.' Then the men stepped forward, seized Jesus and arrested him. With that, one of Jesus' companions reached for his sword, drew it out and struck the servant of the high priest, cutting off his ear. 'Put your sword back in its place,' Jesus said to him, 'for all who draw the sword will die by the sword. Do you not think I cannot call on my Father, and he will at once put at my disposal more than twelve legions of angels?" (Matthew 26:47-53 NIV)
Now, Jesus and his disciples were pretty much minding their own business. In fact he had just finished praying in the garden of Gethsemane when suddenly a large crowd approached them. This was not no ordinary crowd, for it was a crowd wielding swords and clubs, perhaps comparable to a gang of thugs wielding knives and guns today. Along with this crowd was Judas, who was one of the disciples. Judas approached Jesus and kissed him, the kiss of death. Judas had no other intention but harm, for he well knew once he turned in this Rabbi that his life would be over. Ample enough reason to pull out your weapon, wouldn't you say? Immediately upon kissing Jesus, the armed men stepped forward to arrest Jesus. Instinctively, Peter pulled his sword from his sheath and proceeded to inflict harm and quite possibly originally intended to kill one of them. Instead he cut off the ear of one of the men. I would say this was an admirable act of Peter – defending the Lord and putting up a resistance, what more could anyone ask for? The Lord should be well pleased with Peter with this most noble act of courage, strength, and zeal. Surprisingly enough, quite the contrary is true. Jesus' response to Peter's irrational act of resistance was, "Put your sword back in its place." What? Peter might've responded with, "But Master, these men are here to harm and arrest you, to take you away!" But no, as if his first comment weren't enough, Jesus added yet another remark. "For all who draw the sword will die by the sword." "You mean these men are here, about to arrest you, and you want me to put away my sword because if I don't, then I myself will die by the sword?" That's right Peter. "He who draws the sword will die by the sword." A sword was the primary choice of weapon used during the Roman occupational period. It was very efficient, light weight, and extremely sharp. Another name given to the sword was a chereb. The chereb was quite shorter than today's modern swords. The chereb was used primarily in hand-to-hand combat. It was truly a deadly weapon. It was comparable in popularity and efficiency in those days as it is with many of our modern handguns today.
Today, guns, rifles, shotguns, etc. are the primary weapons of choice. Many people carry a gun just as many carried a sword nearly 2,000 years ago. A gun is a very deadly weapon indeed, even more so than any sword. Jesus emphatically commanded to put away our swords. Although many Christians erroneously equate swords with guns, it is actually only the concept that is trying to be conveyed here with this verse. Let us for a minute substitute the word sword used in this passage with the word gun. "For all who draw the gun will die by the gun." This verse aptly implies for us to put away our guns as well.
A gun is nothing but a killer. A person has a very minimal, if any, chance of survival when shot with any kind of a gun with the exception of perhaps a simple BB gun or .22 rifle/handgun. I believe our society would be much better off without guns. A crazed, gun-toting, madman, can do much more harm and damage than a crazed, knife wielding, madman, as evidenced by the many recent mass shootings that have taken place in our public high schools. The bottom line is that this horrific incident that occurred recently at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colorado could've simply been avoided if there were no guns. Eliminate the gun and then you eliminate the less likelihood of mass casualties and fatalities. If our entire society were swept clean of all guns then there would be no need to own a gun to protect one's own family, since no one else would have one. If we all have the trust and faith in our government as we all say we do, then why not allow the military to be the only one's to keep the guns and ammo? Some may argue that puts too much power into the hands of our government and the more likelihood of them being able to gain control over our lives. Malarkey! That's a conspiracy theory/new world order type of mentality if you ask me. Great Britain is a great example of a nation which exists peacefully whose citizens, including the police, are not allowed to carry or own guns – only the military. Show me one example of the military might of Great Britain taking over it's peaceful citizens. It can't be done.
I have been told by many pro-gun advocates that anything can be used to kill, not just guns. If we eliminate guns, then criminals will find other means necessary to kill people. As true as that may be, the sole purpose of any gun, or sword for that matter, is to kill. Scissors can kill, but it's original intent is to be used for cutting or trimming. Similarly, a knife can kill, but it's original intent is used to cut, slice, or spread. As extreme as it may sound, I sincerely believe guns are a product of man's fallen, depraved, sinfulness, with the source being none other than the devil. A gun is not a creation of God, for God does not create that which is evil. Some may argue, "But a gun is not evil, it is the person behind it." Very true. I will be the first to agree that our problems do not exist because there are guns. Our problems exist because there is a breakdown of our moral and spiritual fiber throughout our country. The fact is, lest there be revival that sweeps through this land, this country will not be full of millions of tiny God fearing, moral, Christians. So why not rid the secondary problem – guns?
In conclusion, it is obvious from the evidence quoted from the New Testament that Christ himself taught against the use of weapons and force. As born-again believers in Christ, we need to instead set our sights not on a gun scope, but on Jesus. He is our protector and our refuge, it is in him that we seek shelter, not a gun. Most importantly, we must also take it upon ourselves to first teach our children how to use the weapons that are in our head instead of how to use the weapons of man. If we desire to bring our children into a much safer world, we must first begin with our children. And lastly, as born-again believers of Christ, we must remember that "we walk by faith, not by sight." (II Corinthians 5:7 KJV) We must ultimately trust in Christ to protect us and to sustain us and not to rely on any weapon of man. If Christ faithfully takes care of the birds of the air, all the more he will surely take care of us (Luke 12:24). I therefore call upon all Christians to abandon their guns and begin to live a life totally reliant upon Christ to be our protector and to march ever onward as peaceful Christian soldiers.
"Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called sons of God." (Matthew 5:9 NIV)
(1) Joan Wester Anderson, Where Angels Walk, (Barton & Brett Publishing Co., New York, 1992) ppg 52-54