Guns, Self-protection and Faith
What is our perspective on guns as disciples of Christ?
Editor’s Note: There can hardly be a more timely and important topic for us to consider in our Life Application series than the issue of handguns and assault weapons. This issue touches many in America. It is important to note that this article does not address guns used for hunting or the elimination of pests. We thank Bro. Nathan for identifying the Biblical principle of placing our trust in God, and not in weapons that can harm other humans.
We need a radical solution. Gun violence and mass shootings are now daily occurrences in America. The gun-related statistics in America alone are jaw-dropping:
- 45,222 – Total gun deaths in America in 2022, the most ever (54% were suicides).1
- 100,120 – Average gun-related injuries per year, 2013-2017.2
- 30% of Americans own a gun (highest per capita in the world), 41% live with someone who does.2
- 67% of gun owners list self-protection as the most important reason.2
- 600+ Mass shootings in each of 2020, 2021, and 2022 (compared to 336 in 2018).3
- 41% of white evangelicals own a gun (25-33% of other religions are gun owners).4
- 77% of white evangelicals feel safer with firearms.4
The issue of gun violence and gun ownership also affects Christians. Have you ever been threatened with gun violence, encouraged to purchase guns, sold guns, been introduced to large personal gun collections (including dizzying arrays of assault rifles), or met an individual who kept a gun in their car to protect the kids enroute to school? Do these scenarios exist within the Christadelphian community?
What is our perspective on guns as disciples of Christ? It would seem reasonable that guns used exclusively and responsibly for hunting or varmint control do not transgress God’s principles. But should we purchase or use a gun to protect ourselves and others or even for war? The Bible offers a radical answer.
Gun ownership debates typically start with a myriad of verses examining individuals who used weapons or violence. It is far more helpful to examine first God’s general principles on the subject and then investigate incidents or verses that appear to contradict these principles or are possible exceptions (many of which are beyond the scope of this article).
Four key principles supply a solid Biblical foundation to the topic:
God Loves Life: In his second epistle, Peter proclaims that “The Lord is…not willing that any should perish.” (2 Pet 3:9).5 God proves this fundamental principle from the creation of man in Genesis 1 through to the Book of Life in Revelation 22. Over and over, God creates life and attempts to save and redeem humankind, despite its wickedness, because He loves life.
God saves Noah and his family from the Flood. Gentiles such as Rahab, and the Gibeonites, are redeemed from corrupt Canaanite nations. God even sends his Son to save the lives of mankind because He loves life.
God Abhors Violence: The human propensity for violence appears early in the Bible. After Cain murders his brother Abel, God tells Noah he is about to destroy the earth because of its “continual” violence: “I have determined to make an end of all flesh, for the earth is filled with violence through them.” (Gen 6:5, 13 ESV).
If God was willing to destroy the very lives He loved, this event should impress upon us the extreme level of violence which existed and the degree to which God abhorred this violence. This violence “grieved” Him and He was “sorry that He had made man.” (Gen 6:6, 7). Do the gun statistics above cause us concern that we live in an era of violence comparable to Noah’s (Luke 17:26)?
“Thou Shalt Not Kill”: God includes a third principle in the Ten Commandments: “Thou shalt not kill.” (Exod 20:13 KJV). There is no room for ambiguity. It is a command. God does not give us the unilateral right to take life because we did not create life, and we have no right to destroy the life He has designed. Furthermore, if God made man “in His own image” (Gen 1:27; 9:6), why would we act violently towards or even contemplate killing a human made in likeness to the angels and the Creator of the universe?
“Do Not Fear,” “I Am With You”: What do we fear most? Most of us fear death or harm. Our bodies are trained from a young age to avoid threats to our personal lives and those of our loved ones. God recognizes our propensity for fear and repeats the phrases “Fear not,” “Do not fear,” and “I will be with you” over eighty times throughout the Bible.
It is God’s message to Abraham (Gen 15:1), to Hagar (Gen 21:17), to Joshua (Josh 1:5; 3:7), to Hezekiah (Isa 37:6), to Paul (Acts 18:9; 27:24), and to John on Patmos (Rev 1:17). It is God’s message to all believers (Luke 12:7, 32). Though we fear death or harm, God encourages us to develop faith in His ability to save and protect. And if we do die in this age, God already has a solution. He assures us, “I am with you always,” and He will therefore “also raise us up by His power.” (Matt 28:20; 1 Cor 6:14).
What are our motives for owning a gun or wanting to own a gun?
After we consider the above principles, what reason do we have to buy, own, hide, or threaten the use of a gun for self-protection or the protection of others? To trust in a weapon designed exclusively to kill instantaneously suggests that we do not love life as God does. We do not want to align ourselves with the same violence and wicked people because of whom God flooded the earth, nor with the same behavior that led to the violent murder of his Son, killed for our sake (1 Pet 3:18). The use of guns to kill other humans, in any form, and under any circumstances (without God’s express directive), is completely incongruent with God’s commands or principles.
What are our motives for owning a gun or wanting to own a gun? The statistics above highlight that fear drives gun ownership, and many Christians and non-Christians own a gun for that very reason. But God wants us to develop trust and faith in Him to work through all threats and fears, even if this means we “lay down our lives” for Him, our neighbor, or our brethren (1 John 3:16). If we own a gun for self-protection, perhaps our faith has fallen to fear “those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul,” when instead, God has asked us to obey and “fear Him [God] who is able to destroy both soul and body.” (Matt 10:28).
The Sword (Gun) and the Servant
God’s principles related to gun violence are radical and take great humility and faith to accept (also compare Matt 5:17-48; 19:21-22). Yet, Jesus appears to dismiss them when he speaks to his disciples: “But now, he who has a money bag, let him take it, and likewise a knapsack; and he who has no sword, let him sell his garment and buy one.” (Luke 22:36 ESV).
Many gun-advocates, especially Christians, use this verse as evidence that Jesus urges us to buy, bear, and use weapons for protection. But is that what Jesus is really saying? No. Instead, Jesus is teaching a radically opposite lesson. Luke helps illuminate this using: 1. the “chiastic” literary structure of this event and 2. prophecies from Isaiah 53.6
1. Chiastic Literary Structure—The gospel writers often used chiasms to organize the details of their stories and lessons.7 The first parts of a chiasm lay out initial details, and the second parts provide a replica of these details, but in reverse order. The central portion of the chiasm highlights a key, practical message. By God’s inspiration, Luke crafts the following chiasm in chapter 22:
A) vv. 31-34—Peter’s Denial foretold by Jesus
B) vv. 35-38—The Disciples’ Denial foretold by Jesus
C) vv. 39-46—Jesus: Pray That You Will Not Fall Into Temptation
B’) vv. 47-53—The Disciples Deny Jesus
A’) vv. 54-62—Peter Denies Jesus
When we view Jesus’ statement in verse 36 in the context of the chiasm, we see it is not a command to buy swords. Rather, it is part of a prediction that Peter and the other disciples were about to deny him (parts A and B). Their denial is fulfilled at Jesus’ arrest (parts B’ and A’) when they rely on themselves to deal with this threat rather than God’s principles.
Oddly, the disciples also interpret Jesus’ statement as a literal command for them to buy swords. In verse 38, they gather up two swords (knives) from the Upper Room, perhaps used in preparing the Last Supper, and share them eagerly with Jesus. However, they clearly misunderstood Jesus’ intent by his curt response, “It is enough”—as if to say, “You don’t understand what I mean.” Even later, when Peter and the disciples threaten and attempt to strike the mob with these swords, Jesus rebukes them “No more of this!” (Luke 22:51 ESV).
Mathew’s account of this arrest includes Jesus’ censure: “Put your sword back into its place. For all who take the sword will perish by the sword.” (Matt 26:52 ESV). Jesus’ strong condemnation of this violence should leave all disciples who seek to follow him with a clear message: Jesus did not advocate using threats, violence, or weapons for self-defense or the protection of others.
Furthermore, Jesus characterizes the disciples’ natural inclination to rely on self:
- In the form of acquiring money bags to hold their cash.
- Traveler’s bags to carry supplies.
- As well as selling their cloaks to purchase swords for protection (Luke 22:36).
This contrasts with Luke 9:3 where Jesus instructs that they do not take a moneybag or a traveler’s bag, but he never directs them to buy a sword for protection. The intention is that they were to develop faith in God for their daily needs and protection. In Luke 22:35, the disciples even confirm to Jesus they had lacked “nothing” without these items. Why, then, would Jesus command them to abandon reliance on God, and now fend for themselves? Likewise, Jesus encourages us, as his disciples, to rely on God for all our needs and protection during our earthly ministry–not weapons or self.
Jesus encourages us to rely on God for all our needs and protection
2. Isaiah 53:12—Luke 22:37, also contained in part B of the chiasm, supplies further evidence that Jesus is not commanding the disciples to buy weapons. Here Jesus connects and supports his prediction of their impending violent denial with an intriguing prophecy from Isaiah “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.”
True to Isaiah’s prophecy, the disciples soon behave as “transgressors,” and Jesus is counted with, or “numbered” with them. In Luke 22:47, part B’ of the chiasm, Jesus and the disciples meet Judas and his armed mob in the Garden. In this terrifying moment, the first reaction of the disciples is “Lord, shall we strike with the sword?” (Luke 22:49).
Moments later, Peter takes matters into his own hands, brandishes a sword, and cuts off the ear of the high priest’s servant. (Luke 22:50; John 18:10). By taking up swords against the soldiers, officers, and Pharisees the disciples had become “transgressors” of both Roman law and God’s laws.8 And Jesus was “numbered” with them. If not for his quick “intercession” (Isa 53:12) and healing of the servant’s ear, they may all have landed on the cross!
Jesus encourages us, as his disciples, to rely on God for all our needs and protection during our earthly ministry – not weapons or self.
The depth of the disciples’ denial, as demonstrated in their violence and threats on life, is even more striking when Luke contrasts their choices with those of Jesus’ in Isaiah 53. This entire prophesy emphasizes Jesus’ willingness to be falsely accused, persecuted and murdered, but without retaliation: “They made his grave with the wicked and with the rich man his death, although he had done no violence” (Isa 53:9 ESV).
By quoting Isaiah, Jesus was also pointing the disciples to his own example of “no violence.” Isaiah, Luke and Jesus coordinate on a sure message which shows that Jesus did not own or use a weapon for self-defense, did not advocate that the disciples carry a weapon, or even provide the slightest hint that violence is ok when self or loved ones are threatened.
Woefully, the disciples missed this message, as we can too. To openly carry a weapon, conceal one in a night table or under the front seat of the car, or to threaten to use one, or attack another human being, is a blatant denial of our Lord and even God’s principles which Jesus demonstrated. This exposes us as a “transgressor” of God’s principles, like the disciples.
If we carry a weapon for self-defense or advocate for them, surely we rely on ourselves and our poor judgment, just like the disciples. Instead, God wants us to develop our faith and trust He will look after us. Jesus did not retaliate, and neither should we, even if it means our death. It was only by doing “no violence” that Jesus could heal us from our transgressions and act as an intercessor for us, as he did for the disciples during the arrest: “Upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his wounds we are healed…He bore the sin of many, And makes intercession for the transgressors.” (Isa 53:5, 12 ESV).
Pray That You Enter Not Into Temptation
The center of Luke’s chiasm, part C, holds a powerful exhortation. Here, Jesus takes the disciples to the Garden of Gethsemane and twice encourages them to “Pray that you may not enter into temptation.” (Luke 22:40, 46). As a personal example, Jesus likewise prays and includes, “Not my will, but Yours, be done.” (Luke 22:42 ESV). While he prays, an angel appears from heaven, “strengthening him.” (Luke 22:43).
God wants us to develop our faith and trust He will look after us.
What temptation was Jesus talking about? Surely, in the immediate context of this chiasm, he was referring to the temptation to resist arrest, to rely on self or weapons to defeat their enemies, and to lash out violently in the face of harm or death to self or others.
What was the solution to this temptation? Prayer! Regrettably, while Jesus prayed “earnestly” and with “agony” (Luke 22:44), Luke reveals that the disciples slept. The outcome is revealing. Jesus’ prayer to not enter temptation and for God’s will to be done (as he had taught the disciples to pray earlier in Luke 11:2-4) resulted in a non-violent submission to God’s will and even an angel to strengthen him. In sharp contrast, the disciples did not pray, ignored what God wanted to be done, and fell prey to brandishing their “guns” and almost murdering a man. Jesus even had to remind them that they could call on “more than twelve legions of angels [up to 72,000!].” (Matt 26:53). Do we believe we can call on these angels also?
Often the discussion of self-protection by guns starts with a myriad of justifications. Based on Jesus’ exhortation in the garden, this is the wrong starting point. Directly between his prediction of their denial and its fulfillment, he exhorts the disciples to pray they wouldn’t enter temptation.
These prayers should also be ours as well as growing faith and trust God is with us and will protect us. These are prayers that we never find ourselves or our loved ones in threatening situations. Prayers that if we do, God will help us escape or deal with the situation as Christ did–without weapon, violence, injury or loss of life to anyone. Prayers that God’s “will be done,” and that He will send angels to strengthen us in time of need–which He is delighted to do!
Is our starting point prayer before we face threats? Or is it a gun with spent bullets? If it is, perhaps we are sleeping in the garden also. Or perhaps our gun closets are full, but our prayers are empty.
The implications of God’s principles and Jesus’ example are radical and far-reaching. They should cause us to search deep within ourselves and evaluate our participation in a growing gun culture. This exercise may require us to ask hard questions and make hard decisions.
For example, why would any believer consider amassing a collection of guns which are built primarily for killing humans? Statistics clearly show that having a firearm in our house greatly increases the possibility of accidents, gun violence, and even gun-assisted suicide.1 It is likely Jesus would encourage us to spend more time collecting the life-saving principles of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, or “firing up” our brethren and sisters to “good works.” (Matt 5:16; Heb 10:24).
Does the uninspired “right to bear arms” in any country supersede the inspired laws and principles of God? His Word suggests the only right we have is to submit ourselves to God’s principles and the welfare of each other (John 14:15; 1 Cor 10:24; Jas 4:7).
If guns are contributing to over 600 mass shootings per year, then perhaps we need to consider their effect on society versus our perceived rights. If a disciple of Christ insists on his or her “rights” to the detriment of others, have they grasped the mindset of Jesus or a life of self-sacrifice?
Furthermore, what relation do we have with today’s media? Movies, shows, and computer games all glamorize the use of guns and violence. We are horrified when mass shootings occur in the news, but how do we feel when brutal violence occurs in our movies?
Many computer games are dripping with the blood of humans and reward players for violence. Considering God’s principles, are we ok with our kids playing Fortnite, Call of Duty, World of Tanks, Mortal Kombat or other violent games? Would we “network” Christ into our game? How do these games instill Jesus’ values into our minds to
We have a radical solution to the growing gun problem. It exists as life-saving principles in our Bibles and is exemplified in our Lord and Savior. It is buttressed by prayer and bolstered by our growing faith. To derive a sense of safety from the ability to kill your “neighbor” instantly is incompatible with the command to “love your neighbor.” (Luke 10:27).
It is a claim to possess the power of life and death. That power belongs to God alone. As we seek to “become blameless and harmless” and “shine as lights in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation” (Phil 2:15), what radical steps do we need to take to follow the example of the crucified but risen, Lord?
Cambridge Ecclesia, ON
1 Gramlich, John. “What the data says about gun deaths in the U.S.” Pew Research Center. February 3, 2022. https://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2022/02/03/what-the-data-says-about-gun-deaths-in-the-u-s/
2 Hays, Christopher and C.L. Crouch eds. God and Guns: The Bible Against American Gun Culture. Louisville, Kentucky: John Knox Press, 2021. Note there are several helpful chapters in this book and a couple that are less helpful.
3 Brown, Stacy M. “Mass shootings dominated 2022: Will 2023 see meaningful change?” The Washington Informer. January 4, 2023. https://www.washingtoninformer.com/mass-shootings-dominated-2022-will-2023-see-meaningful-change/
4 Shellnutt, Kate. “Packing in the pews: the connection between God and Guns.” Christianity Today. November 8, 2017. https://www.christianitytoday.com/news/2017/november/god-gun-control-white-evangelicals-texas-church-shooting.html
5 All Scriptural citations are taken from the New King James Version, unless otherwise noted.
6 For more information on chiasms, I would recommend the Biblical Chiasm Exchange website administered by Bro. Stephen Palmer from the Mumbles Ecclesia, Wales: chiasmusxchange.com/explanatory-notes/
7 Burnett, David. “The Sword and the servant: Why does Jesus say to “Sell your Cloak and Buy a Sword” in Luke 22:33-35?” Accessed January 19, 2023. https://www.dburnett.com/?p=2861 Note the link for the podcast which contains a fabulous investigation into these verses.
8 Some suggest that “numbered with the transgressors” was fulfilled when Jesus was hung between two thieves on the cross, as per Mark 15:28. However, this verse does not exist in manuscripts prior to 600AD and has been removed in most recent translations. Luke applies it to the immediate context of the arrest, though one could argue that Jesus was with “transgressors” in many instances.