Liberty, Texas is self-defense country. Historically, geographically, and culturally we straddle the margins of the Unreconstructed South, the Wild West, and the Border Southwest. The tools of self defense were once required in these parts, necessities of life as essential as a good horse and a good pair of boots. Now, living where we live, many still cherish the right of self defense as natural and God-given, and many continue to think that the tools of self defense are necessities.
But is self defense God-approved?
I was recently asked about Luke 22:36, a passage in which Jesus says, "Let the one who has no sword sell his cloak and buy one." First, does this verse allow for or even promote self defense? Second, does this verse promote every action and attitude that falls under the heading of self defense? This article will answer these questions.
Understanding Luke 22:36
Although the liberal fringes of popular Christianity object to gun ownership, Jesus accepted that "Self defense is lawful" (Barnes).
He said to them,“When I sent you out without money belt and bag and sandals, you did not lack anything, did you?”They said, “No, nothing.”And He said to them,“But now,whoever has a money belt is to take it along, likewise also a bag, andwhoever has no sword is to sell hiscoat and buy one (Lk. 22:35-36).
In this passage Jesus contrasts the instructions he gave at the beginning of the "Limited Commission" (Matt. 10) with the challenges the Twelve would face while fulfilling the "Great Commission." Although the Limited Commission would take them among friends, the Great Commission would take them "Into all the world." What would they find there? What would they need there?
Commentator Albert Barnes explains,
They were going into...danger. The country was infested with robbers and wild beasts. It was customary to go armed...they would need the provisions "appropriate to that kind of life." The "common" preparation for that manner of life consisted in money, provisions, and arms.
Some have wondered if Jesus' mention of a "sword" figuratively refers to "the word." Although thought-provoking, this is unlikely. The sword of the spirit is the word of God (Eph. 6:17). But does this passage use "sword" in that figurative sense? Notice that Jesus mentions "a sword" among a list of other provisions like "a money belt," "a bag," and a "coat." If none of the other reference in the same list are used figuratively, then "sword" is not used figuratively either.
Misapplying Luke 22:36
Answering any challenging ethical question is a careful exercise in balancing all that the Bible says on a subject. We would not want to "Go off half-cocked" on the subject of gun ownership and self defense. We should not assume that every gun-totin', rip-roarin', shoot-'em-up attitude is endorsed by Jesus.
On the contrary, the same Jesus who said "Whoever has no sword is to...buy one" also said, "He who lives by the sword shall die by the sword" (Mt. 26:52). Instead of a contradiction between passages, these passages mark a contrast between attitudes.
Conclusion: A Contrast of Attitudes
This contrast in attitudes is well illustrated by different heroes in two different famous Westerns. Do you remember Shane? Do you remember The Wild Bunch? Christian gun owners should be the one and not the others.
You really do not have to remember The Wild Bunch to get the movie's drift. Starring William Holden, The Wild Bunch told the bloody story of sure-enough, bad-to-the-bone outlaw gunmen. There were no winners, moral or otherwise, at the end of The Wild Bunch. They lived by the gun and everyone died. Wild Bunch attitudes have no place in Christian hearts.
Shane, on the other hand, told the classic story of a reluctant hero. Escaping his dark Civil-War past, Shane (played by Alan Ladd) just wanted to be left alone. But a psychopathic killer (played by - who else? - Jack Palance) would not leave Shane or his gentle friends alone. Relentlessly prodded, Shane, who did not live by the gun but did not want to die and did not want others to die from someone else's gun, finally defended "all the decent people who want a chance to live in peace."
I have to admit to a soft place in my heart for William Holden, but his hard-core character in The Wild Bunch evokes no sympathy and elicits no support from Luke 22:36. Alan Ladd's Shane comes closer to the teachings of Jesus. Biblically and practically, armed self defense should be the very reluctant, very last option of those who are relentlessly prodded and hopelessly out of better alternatives.