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|I'll draw my quotations from a Protestant Bible, because I do not want to focus this on textual subtlies or differences in translation. (But, in the original Coptic and/or Hebrew the fact that Christ was not a pure pacifist is even more clear.)
Many people, Christians included, assume that Christ taught pacifism. They cite Matthew 5:38-39 for their proof. In this verse Christ said: "You have heard that it was said, 'An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.' But I tell you not to resist an evil person. But whoever slaps you on your right cheek, turn the other to him also."
The Sermon on the Mount from which this passage is taken deals with righteous personal conduct. In our passage, Christ is clearing up a confusion that had led people to think that conduct proper for the civil government -- that is, taking vengeance -- was also proper for an individual.
Even the choice of words used by Christ indicates that He was addressing a confusion, or a distortion, that was commonplace. Several times in the rest of the Sermon on the Mount Christ used this same "you have heard it said" figure of speech to straighten out misunderstandings or falsehoods being taught by the religious leaders of the times.
Contrast this to Christ's use of the phrase "it is written" when He was appealing to the Scriptures for authority (for example, see Matthew 4 where on three occasions during His temptation by the devil, Christ answered each one of the devil's lies or misquotes from Scripture with the words: "it is written").
To further underscore the point that Christ was correcting the religious leaders on their teaching that "an eye for an eye" applies to private revenge, consider that in the same Sermon, Christ strongly condemned false teaching: "Whoever therefore breaks one of the commandments, and teaches men so, shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven..." (Matthew 5:19). Clearly, then, Christ was not teaching something different about self defense than is taught elsewhere in the Bible. Otherwise, He would be contradicting Himself for He would now be teaching men to break one of the commandments.
The reference to "an eye for an eye" was taken from Exodus 21:24-25 which deals with how the magistrate must deal with a crime. Namely, the punishment must fit the crime. The religious leaders of Christ's day had twisted a passage that applied to the government and misused it as a principle of personal revenge.
The Bible distinguishes clearly between the duties of the civil magistrate (the government) and the duties of an individual. Namely, God has delegated to the civil magistrate the administration of justice. Individuals have the responsibility of protecting their lives from attackers. Christ was referring to this distinction in the Matthew 5 passage. Let us now examine in some detail what the Scriptures say about the roles of government and of individuals.
Both the Old and New Testaments teach individual self defense, even if it means taking the assailant's life in certain circumstances.
Self-Defense in the Old Testament
Exodus 22:2-3 tells us "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. He should make full restitution; if he has nothing, then he shall be sold for his theft."
One conclusion which can be drawn from this is that a threat to our life is to be met with lethal force. After the sun has risen seems to refer to a different judgment than the one permitted at night. At night it is more difficult to discern whether the intruder is a thief or a murderer. Furthermore, the nighttime makes it more difficult to defend oneself and to avoid killing the thief at the same time. During the daytime, it better be clear that one's life was in danger, otherwise, defense becomes vengeance, and that belongs in the hand of the magistrate.
In Proverbs 25:26 we read that "A righteous man who falters before the wicked is like a murky spring and a polluted well." Certainly, we would be faltering before the wicked if we chose to be unarmed and unable to resist an assailant who might be threatening our life. In other words, we have no right to hand over our life which is a gift from God to the unrighteous. It is a serious mistake to equate a civilized society with one in which the decent people are doormats for the evil to trample on.
Self Defense in the New Testament
The Christian pacifist may try to argue that God has changed His mind from the time that He gave Moses the Ten Commandments on Mount Sinai. Perhaps they would want us to think that Christ canceled out the Ten Commandments in Exodus 20 or the provision for justifiably killing a thief in Exodus 22. But the writer of Hebrews makes it clear that this cannot be, because "Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today and forever" (Hebrews 13:8). In the Old Testament, the prophet Malachi records God's words this way: "For I am the Lord, I do not change" (Malachi 3:6).
Paul was referring to the unchangeability of God's Word when he wrote to Timothy that "All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work" (2 Timothy 3:16-17). Clearly, Paul viewed all Scripture, including the Old Testament, as useful for training Christians in every area of life.
We must also consider what Christ told his disciples in his last hours with them: "...But now, he who has a money bag, let him take it, and likewise a sack; and he who has no sword, let him sell his garment and buy one" (Luke 22:36). Keep in mind that the sword was the finest offensive weapon available to an individual soldier -- the equivalent then of a military rifle today.
The Christian pacifist will likely object at this point that only a few hours later, Christ rebuked Peter who used a sword to cut off the ear of Malchus, a servant of the high priest in the company of a detachment of troops. Let us read what Christ said to Peter in Matthew 26:52-54:
Put your sword in its place, for all who take the sword will perish by the sword. Or do you think that I cannot now pray to My Father, and He will provide Me with more than twelve legions of angels? How then could the Scriptures be fulfilled, that it must happen thus?
In the companion passage in John 18, Jesus tells Peter to put his sword away and told him that He had to drink the cup that His Father had given Him. It was not the first time that Christ had to explain to the disciples why He had come to earth. To fulfill the Scriptures, the Son of God had to die for the sin of man since man was incapable of paying for his own sin apart from going to hell. Christ could have saved His life, but then believers would have lost their lives forever in hell. These things only became clear to the disciples after Christ had died and been raised from the dead and the Spirit had come into the world at Pentecost (see John 14:26).
While Christ told Peter to "put your sword in its place" He clearly did not say get rid of it forever. That would have contradicted what he had told the disciples only hours before. Peter's sword was to protect his own mortal life from danger. His sword was not needed to protect the Creator of the universe and the King of kings.
Years after Pentecost, Paul wrote in a letter to Timothy "But if anyone does not provide for his own, and especially for those of his household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever" (1 Tim. 5:8). This passage applies to our subject because it would be absurd to buy a house, furnish it with food and facilities for one's family, and then refuse to install locks and provide the means to protect the family and the property. Likewise it would be absurd not to take, if necessary, the life of a night-time thief to protect the members of the family (Exodus 22:2-3).
A related, and even broader concept, is found in the parable of the Good Samaritan. Christ had referred to the Old Testament summary of all the laws of the Bible into two great commandments: "'You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your strength, and with all your mind,' and your neighbor as yourself'" (Luke 10:27). When asked who was a neighbor, Christ related the parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:30-37). It was the Good Samaritan who took care of the mugging victim who was a neighbor to the victim. The others who walked by and ignored the victim's plight were not acting as neighbors to him.
In the light of all we have seen the Scriptures teach to this point, can we argue that if we were able to save another's life from an attacker by shooting the attacker with our gun that we should "turn the other cheek instead?" The Bible speaks of no such right. It only speaks of our responsibilities in the face of an attack -- as individual creatures made by God, as householders or as neighbors.
For those who think that God treated Israel differently from the way He will treat us today, please consider what God told the prophet Malachi: "For I am the Lord, I do not change..." (Malachi 3:6).