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Self-Defense or Self-Denial? part 1

Journalist and blogger David French believes passionately that the constitutional "right to bear arms" is rooted in a more ancient God-given right. "It is quite clear," says French, "that God has not merely sanctioned the right of self defense but has explicitly approved even the use of deadly force to protect human life."

French quotes six Bible verses to back his assertion. The first is Genesis 9:6.

Whoever sheds the blood of a human, by a human shall that person’s blood be shed; for in his own image God made humankind.

This verse, found toward the end of the flood story, is a curious choice, because most interpreters view it at most as establishing a legal consequence for murder—i.e., capital punishment—and not as conferring an unfettered right to kill in self defense. In a 2012 debate in Christianity Today magazine, David Gushee, Richard Land, and Glen Stassen make their cases whether a pro-life Christian can support the death penalty. Land sees in Genesis 9:6 a moral responsibility to support the death penalty.

It is also imperative that I support capital punishment precisely because human life is sacred and God mandated to Noah that he would "require the life of each man's brother for a man's life" precisely because "God made man in his image" (Gen. 9:5-6, HCSB).

Stassen disagrees, citing other Bible scholars who see this verse as an early proverb rather than a command.

In his highly respected commentary on Genesis, scholar Claus Westermann says this is a proverb, not a command: In that day without government, whoever killed someone would be killed in revenge. And Donald Hagner's commentary on Matthew says Jesus interprets Genesis 9:6 as a proverb, not a command, in Matthew 26:52: "all who draw the sword will die by the sword."

Gushee, taking a middle approach, reads Genesis 9:6 as a command but not the final word.

However, the Bible does not end with Genesis 9. Mosaic Law contains numerous death penalty provisions but rare evidence of their enforcement and plenty of evidence of divine mercy. And the New Testament heightens the depiction of divine mercy while also offering numerous tragic examples of government misuse of the power to kill.

Regardless of their view on the death penalty, none of these scholars think Genesis 9:6 authorizes individuals to take another's life without due process.

Next, French selects Exodus 22:2.

If a thief is found breaking in, and is beaten to death, no bloodguilt is incurred;

This, too, is a curious choice, since it is only a partial sentence. The following verse completes the thought and provides context.

but if it happens after sunrise, bloodguilt is incurred.

So Exodus 22:2 does not give blanket approval for bludgeoning a person to death in your home. Benjamin Corey explains:

When people are scared in the dark and try to get away, bad things can happen even though the individual doesn’t intend it. For example, if you’re grabbed while walking on a dark path and shove the attacker to get away, but the attacker falls and dies, it would be disingenuous to say that lethality was an actual intent. This verse made room for those kinds of incidents when lethality was clearly not the intention.

However, the verse then switched to daylight– when you can actually see the intruder in your home. In this scenario, any kind of violent response that would lead to death is not only condemned, but considered murder.

French turns next to Nehemiah 4:14.

After I looked these things over, I stood up and said to the nobles and the officials and the rest of the people, "Do not be afraid of them. Remember the Lord, who is great and awesome, and fight for your kin, your sons, your daughters, your wives, and your homes."

Once again, a little context is in order. Nehemiah was one of the leaders of Jewish exiles where were allowed by Persian king Artaxerxes to return to Jerusalem. As they were rebuilding the city walls, they encountered resistance from neighboring peoples.

But when Sanballat and Tobiah and the Arabs and the Ammonites and the Ashdodites heard that the repairing of the walls of Jerusalem was going forward and the gaps were beginning to be closed, they were very angry, and all plotted together to come and fight against Jerusalem and to cause confusion in it. —Nehemiah 4:7-8

The "nobles and the officials and the rest of the people" Nehemiah instructs in verse 14 are the city's frontline defense against these attacks. In other words, this passage is talking about soldiers in combat, not ordinary citizens.

French has a few more proof texts, which we'll look at in the next post. But so far he has failed to hit the target.

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