03 September 2015

Once More, For The Record

The following article is by William O. Einwechter.
If a thief be found breaking up, and be smitten that he die, there shall no blood be shed for him. If the sun be risen upon him, there shall be blood shed for him. . . . (Ex. 22:2-3)

At the heart of the debate over gun control is the issue of self-defense. Citizens may desire gun ownership for hunting and recreation, but the primary reason for owning a gun is self-defense against criminals and a tyrannical government.

Therefore, any biblical text that deals with the right of self-defense is central to determining the right of gun ownership under God’s law. Perhaps the most crucial text to address the right of self-defense is Exodus 22:2-3.

This Scripture appears in that portion of the Pentateuch known as “The Book of the Covenant” (Ex. 21-23). The Book of the Covenant follows the declaration of the Ten Commandments, and provides a concrete application of the principles of truth and justice contained in the Ten Commandments by means of “statutes and judgments.”

The context of Exodus 21:2-3 is dealing with theft and restitution. Within this discussion of theft, the case of a thief breaking in is presented. In this case law two scenarios are given.

In the first scenario, a thief is “found breaking up,” that is, breaking in by breaking up the roof, a window, or a door during the night hours. Thus we have a forced entry into the house (or property) that is discoverd by the owner. The owner responds to this alarming and threatening situation (for in the dark of night he knows not the intent, identity, or arms of the intruder) by killing the robber, presumably with some sort of weapon. The declaration of God’s law is that in these circumstances the owner is innocent of any wrongdoing, and is fully justified in using lethal force to defend himself and his family.

The second instance involves a thief “breaking up” under different circumstances. In this case, it is during the daylight hours, and presumably, the owner can identify the intentions of the intruder and see that he is unarmed and poses no threat to life or limb, but is a mere thief. Yet, in spite of this the owner kills the thief. In these circumstances the owner who uses lethal force is guilty of a crime. This was not an act of self-defense (for he was not attacked or threatened) but an act of brutality against an unarmed man whose only intention was the theft of property. The penalty for theft was restitution, not death. Thus, this is a case of the unauthorized taking of human life, and is, therefore, murder, punishable by death. God’s law authorizes the protection of life by deadly force if necessary, but His law does not permit the defense of property in the same manner.

It is important to note that the case presented here of a thief breaking in involves the shedding of blood. Therefore, this case law is an application of the righteousness of the Sixth Commandment, “Thou shalt not kill.”  Consequently, the biblical law of self-defense empowers us to defend our lives against wicked men who hate God, His law, and the life of their neighbor. We may assume that those who threaten us with bodily harm or weapons hold the life God has given us in contempt, and, therefore, we may defend ourselves against such evil even to the point of killing our assailant.
In conclusion, let us consider the implications of Exodus 22:2-3 for the right of self-defense.

1. This case law establishes the righteousness of self-defense. God’s law permits a man to defend himself and his family. This defense may require the use of deadly force, and this certainly implies the use of weapons.

2. If a man is not guilty of any crime for slaying an intruder on the mere supposition that he may be armed or pose a threat to him or his family, how much more does the law of God authorize self-defense against an armed assailant who definitely threatens bodily harm. A man is justified in defending himself whenever he is attacked or his life endangered.

3. The primary responsibility for defense against violent attacks is a personal responsibility. The defense of one’s life and one’s family is chiefly an individual responsibility, not a community or governmental responsibility. (There is no indication that Israel had a standing police force or army. The armed men of Israel, under the direction of their magistrates, were the army and police force.) There is certainly a need to love our neighbor and come to his defense if we can. But the first line of defense against violence and aggression is the man who is prepared to use whatever force necessary in the protection of his own life and those for whom he is responsible (e. g., his family). This, of course, means that he must be armed to meet all possible threats to his life. Today, this requires a citizen to be armed with guns.

4. Any weapon is permissable for use in self-defense. This case law does not say the owner is guilty if he uses a sword, but not guilty if he uses a club. The issue is not one of weapons, but the right of self-defense. God’s law does not make an arbitrary distinction between acceptable and unacceptable weapons for self-defense. And there are no biblical laws restricting the access of citizens to weapons necessary for self-defense. To limit a citizen’s access to lethal weapons (e.g., guns) is to limit his ability for self-defense. Gun control is self-defense control. Who would want to control and limit the individual’s ability to defend himself except thugs and tyrants?

5. This case law would be a great deterrence to criminals. After all, citizens are armed and authorized to kill, if necessary, intruders and attackers!

6. This case law also restrains the individual in the use of weapons in self-defense. He must be very careful, lest he use deadly force when it is not called for. If he does, he pays with his own life.

This article was originally published in The Christian Statesman, vol. 140, no. 1, (January-February, 1997.)


deborah harvey said...

excellent exposition.

Rev. Paul said...

You're welcome, ma'am.