Friday, November 2, 2007

What Does the Bible Say about Self Defense?

We find the most basic statement about self defense in Exodus 22:2. If a thief be found breaking up [i.e. breaking in], and be smitten that he die, there shall no blood be shed for him. In other words, a man defending his home is not held guilty of murder if the perpetrator dies. That's God's standard for self defense.

Some people complicate the matter by trying to set the Bible against itself. For example, "Thou shalt not kill." (Exodus 20:13) does not mean no killing under any circumstance whatsoever (as some pacifists assert). If this were the case, then we should not swat flies, slap mosquitoes or even use antiseptics, which kill bacteria. An investigation of the greater context as well as the Hebrew word used, reveals that the meaning is "Thou shalt not murder."

Similarly, Jesus' admonition to turn the other cheek (Luke 6:29) is often used to promote pacifism. It would take too much space to go into an explanation of this passage's context & its relation to the lex talionis of Biblical Law, so for now suffice it to say there is a big difference between someone's slapping your cheek and someone else's trying to cave your head in with a baseball bat.


LockTheDeadbolt said...

It appears that in the context (specifically vs. 3) that no bloodguilt is assigned to a man defending his home only if the thief has broken in and is killed during the night, since "if the sun has risen on him, there shall be bloodguilt for him."

Commentators seem to agree that if someone is pulling a B&E during the daytime then the thief ought not to be killed since the master of the house could call for aid more readily.

In context there doesn't appear to be a basis for greenlighting an intruder in defense of one's home/self/family, unless it's nighttime.

This illustrates what, in my mind, is the most difficult thing about theonomic ethics: distilling clear and applicable universal principles from within the trappings of ancient Israelite cultural and civil contexts.

Should bloodguilt be assigned to someone who kills an intruder during the daytime when no assistance is available or forthcoming for any number of reasons?

Or do you see something about the context here that I'm missing?

Gravelbelly said...

I find this quote from the commentary of Keil & Delitzsch to be helpful here:

The reason for this disparity between a thief by night and one in the day is, that the power and intention of a nightly thief are uncertain, and whether he may not have come for the purpose of committing murder; and that by night, if thieves are resisted, they often proceed to murder in their rage; and also that they can neither be recognised, nor resisted and apprehended with safety” (Calovius)

The point I derive from this is that, if a man may, under a given circumstance [i.e., darkness of night], use the extreme measure of lethal force to protect his property, then how much more appropriate such force is in defense of his life or the lives of his family.

LockTheDeadbolt said...

Thank you for responding. I see your point, and if Keil & Delitzsch are correct then I think your a minore ad maius argument appears sound.

However, I'm still uncertain of the interpretation. I don't think that "the power and intention of a nightly thief" is any more "uncertain" than that of a daytime criminal. In what way does the daytime "shine a light" (pun intended) on the intentions of a thief. Intentions are intangible by day or by night.

And I'm unconvinced that a prowler resisted is any more or less likely to murder by day or by night.

They bring up the point that at night the intruder is difficult to recognize, but doesn't this work against their assertions, in that a thief whose face is seen during daytime may be more likely to murder a witness?

My real question is, why should the time of day determine bloodguiltiness on the part of the defender? What is the significant difference between day and night in these circumstances?

Gravelbelly said...

I think the day/night contrast refers, not to the thief's breaking in, but to his being found. I get this from adding verse 4 to the context.

Verse 2 proceeds under the assumption that a thief is going to break in under cover of darkness. If you find him while he is breaking in & repel him with force, and he dies, there is no bloodguiltiness.

If you (and the posse?)don't find him until the sun has risen on him, you're not allowed to lynch him (v.3). And if, when he is found, the sheep or ox is still alive, he owes double restitution.

This is the standard Theonomic, Christian Reconstructionist view of the passage, to which I hesitated to appeal earlier, since you seem to have some grave reservations about our approach.

LockTheDeadbolt said...

Yes! Thank you for the illumination (regarding, not the break-in, but the finding of the thief during day or night). I think that clears up the fog in my mind surrounding the text.

I think you may have misunderstood my earlier comment regarding theonomic ethics (or I wasn't clear enough, or some combination of the two). I'm actually quite "sympathetic" to Christian Reconstructionism in general. I was simply lamenting what I, personally, find to be the most difficult aspect of a theonomic view of civil law and ethics.

Thank you again for your help in this regard, and thank you for your continued blogging efforts.