The short answer is, ‘yes.’ To prove this, we have to look at a few topics that tie together.
I. The Sanctity of Human Life
Both the Old and New Testament teach that human life is given to us by God and we are to protect that life. Paul shows that our own life has value, and to not do things that would damage or harm the body. “your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God.” (1Co 6:19)
Psalm 82:4 points out the obligation humans have to protect people in danger: “Rescue the weak and needy; Deliver them out of the hand of the wicked.” Also notice Proverbs 24:11, “Deliver those who are drawn toward death, And hold back those stumbling to the slaughter. Ezekiel 33:6 says, “But if the watchman sees the sword coming and does not blow the trumpet, and the people are not warned, and a sword comes and takes a person from them, he is taken away in his iniquity; but his blood I will require from the watchman’s hand.”
The Old Testament law stipulates that if one fails to guard the lives of others, they are guilty of the life of that person. In Deuteronomy 22:8, if someone falls from your roof because you had not placed a safety barrier around the edge, you would be held liable for the death of that person. In Ex. 21:29-31, if you did not confine an ox which had a reputation of meanness, you would be held responsible if that ox harmed or killed someone.
So the God principle is that we are to protect our lives and the lives of others. Genesis 9:5-6 says, “And for your lifeblood I will require a reckoning: from every beast I will require it and from man. From his fellow man I will require a reckoning for the life of man. “Whoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed, for God made man in his own image.” This shows that anyone who takes the life of man is to be killed.
One important verse in Exodus 22:2-3 says, “If the thief is found breaking in, and he is struck so that he dies, there shall be no guilt for his bloodshed. If the sun has risen on him, there shall be guilt for his bloodshed” This verse shows two things. First of all, it establishes the lack of guilt if you kill someone trying to break into your home at night. You have no way of knowing who they are or what their intention is, and you can defend your home with lethal force.
However, there is an important note about if “the sun has risen on him.” This is different. In the daytime you can see if it is a stranger or not. You can perceive the intentions of the intruder. If you can tell he is there as a thief, you cannot kill him, but you could do anything in your power to ward him off. Granted, if that developed into worse intentions, you would not be held guilty. The crime under consideration here is that of burglary, not intent to harm or kill.
The book of Nehemiah (4:8-23) shows us a people who were surrounded by enemies who wanted to kill them. Nehemiah 4:13 says that people stationed “people by families” around the city. These were not trained soldiers or law enforcement officers. These were ordinary citizens concerned for the welfare of their fellow man. Yet they were armed with swords, spears, bows. These certainly were capable of killing someone attacking them. And the book of Esther shows that the king allowed the people of Israel to defend themselves against those who sought to destroy them. (Esther 8:11-12)
I understand that many of these verses cited come from the Old Law. How does the New Testament treat this subject? In the life of Jesus we find a couple of incidents which show Jesus’ own apostles “packed heat.”
Luke 5:35-38, “And he said to them, “When I sent you out with no moneybag or knapsack or sandals, did you lack anything?” They said, “Nothing.” He said to them, “But now let the one who has a moneybag take it, and likewise a knapsack. And let the one who has no sword sell his cloak and buy one. For I tell you that this Scripture must be fulfilled in me: ‘And he was numbered with the transgressors.’ For what is written about me has its fulfillment.” And they said, “Look, Lord, here are two swords.” And he said to them, “It is enough.” Without getting into the ins and outs of what this passage means, I simply want to show that all during Jesus’ ministry, he is surrounded by his apostles. And here, when Jesus talks about swords, two of them produce swords that evidently they had been carrying all along. Jesus never called them to get rid of them, evidently.
Secondly, when Jesus is being arrested in the Garden of Gethsemane, Peter takes one of those two swords and cuts off the ear of Malchus, the High Priest’s servant. Jesus immediately put an end to the aggression by telling Peter to put the sword away. But he didn’t tell Peter to get rid of the sword. It was not appropriate here because it was the intention of God to have this scene go down as planned. Interestingly, Jesus says to those who came to arrest him, “Have you come out with swords and clubs as against a robber? (Verse 53) This would indicate that it would be an appropriate use of the sword and club (and gun) to ward off the evil intentions of a robber.
Of course, the passage everyone turns to when asking the question about self defense is the words of Jesus in the sermon on the mount.
Matthew 5:38-42, “You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I say to you, Do not resist the one who is evil. But if anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. And if anyone would sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well. And if anyone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles. Give to the one who begs from you, and do not refuse the one who would borrow from you.”
The context of this passage is the Old Testament law about retaliation, found in Exodus 21:22-24. “When men strive together and hit a pregnant woman, so that her children come out, but there is no harm, the one who hit her shall surely be fined, as the woman’s husband shall impose on him, and he shall pay as the judges determine. But if there is harm, then you shall pay life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, burn for burn, wound for wound, stripe for stripe.”
The intent of God was to curb the vengeful hearts of people (in the community of the people of Israel) wishing to retaliate against a fellow Israelite who accidently brought physical harm to them (more specifically, their pregnant wives.) You could not punish a person by harming them more than they had harmed her. When Jesus quotes this, he is referring to an attitude among brethren that SOUGHT vengeance, and that DEMANDED justice. They had turned a law intending to curb retaliation into a law actually JUSTIFYING retaliation.
(This is similar to Jesus’ teachings on divorce, where the Jews took a law safeguarding against unjustifiable divorces and turned it into a law saying “See, God WANTS us to divorce our wives.”)
So the words of Jesus say that if a brother injures you and you have a legitimate right to bring charges against them, that we are to “turn the other cheek” rather than seeking legal steps to get compensation for wrong done. This corresponds with I Corinthians 6, talking about brethren taking brethren to court. If the words about “going the second mile” refer to the Roman law by which a soldier could force anyone to carry their gear for them, as long as it wasn’t over a mile, then this teaching would be broadened to our attitude toward non-Christians as well.
The teaching is that we as Christians should be able to suffer the indignities of a slap on the face or an insult to our pride without retaliating. We are not to seek vengeance, but leave vengeance in the hands of God. However, notice that the indignities being done here are more of the nature of people disrespecting you or humiliating you or taking advantage of your weak position. The context says nothing about a person who has the intent of causing you injury or death. The person who steals food from our church cupboards because they are hungry does not belong in the same category of someone intending to rob my house. The bad-tempered person who slaps you on the face does not belong in the same category of someone intending your family bodily harm.
This verse has nothing to do with self defense or protecting your family against an intruder. It is Jesus himself who says, “But know this, that if the master of the house had known in what part of the night the thief was coming, he would have stayed awake and would not have let his house be broken into.” (Matthew 24:43) I believe that the intent of God is that we should defend and protect the lives of the innocent by any means, even if a death occurs in the process. This is why Christians are able to justify war against psychopathic despots. But we are not to be vigilantes or revenge takers. Romans 12:19 reminds us that we are “never to take revenge, but leave room for the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is Mine, I will repay,” says the Lord.”