The Right to Bear Arms: A Biblical and Historical View

NovJournalPhotoWorld History Institute – by Don Schanzenbach

It started in 1866, that is, the beginning of gun control laws in Ottoman Turkey. Article 166 was the first, then further laws were enacted in 1911 and 1915. First permits were required, then came a government list of all gun owners, and finally, a ban on possession. It was gradual. The entire process took 49 years. Finally however, the citizens were disarmed. The government, of course, was not. The death toll? So many their number was never

In the Soviet Union the process advanced much faster. Gun control laws began under soviet resolutions in 1918. Then they enacted Articles 59 &182 of the penal code. First came licensing of owners, then a ban on possession with severe penalties. By 1926 ownership of firearms by citizens (not government) was a fact of life in Soviet Russia. The death squads and violent persecution of Russian Christians and dissidents began in 1929. It took only 3 years to go from full gun control to the murder of Russian civilians. The death count? A minimum of 20 million with some historian’s estimates ranging up to 50 million. Only the Lord knows the full number.fully counted, 1 million to 1.5 million Armenians, mostly Christian people, who had become helpless before their enemies.

More easily within our memories is Rwanda in 1994. That was the year 800,000 innocent civilians were murdered in just a few weeks. The anti-gun laws were enacted in 1979 – Decree #12. Gun owners, guns, and ammunition had to be registered. Owners had to justify need. Concealed guns became illegal and the government gained the power to confiscate. The end result? 800,000 Tutsi people killed, mostly by machete.

We could go on in similar fashion remembering Nazi Germany (ban on possession 1938), Red China (1957), Uganda (Firearms Act 1970), and many more with the count of unarmed, civilian dead, killed by their own governments ranging around 170,000,000 in the 20th century alone (see the Genocide Chart, for a quick summary). All of this ought to be a sober reminder, pointing us back to those old Bible stories and doctrines that served Christian societies for so many centuries.

It was under King Saul we read (1 Samuel 13:17-22) how the nation of Israel was oppressed by the Philistines. Raiders came from the camp of the Philistines in three companies, each turning in different directions. Times had become desperate and dangerous. Saul was camped in Geba of Benjamin, but the nation’s enemies were spreading out to wreak havoc on the people. This is when the Scripture writer drops in this little tidbit for our consideration. He writes, “Now no blacksmith could be found in all the land of Israel, for the Philistines said, ‘lest the Hebrews make swords or spears.” So, here the nation was, under direct attack by their long-time enemy. Israel had already been disarmed and cowed into submission. The text lets us know that, “all Israel went down to the Philistines, each to sharpen his plowshare, his mattock, his ax and his hoe. “ They supposed they would have a king who would lead them out against their enemies (1 Samuel 8:20). What they actually got was a sometimes heroic leader and an often waffling, indecisive, cowardly man to rule them. Now as the enemy spread out over the land, the people found themselves unarmed and undefended.

Did God give His people victory in the battles that followed? Yes He did. However, the obvious message from the text is that it is ruinous and morally wrong for God’s people to be disarmed and defenseless before their enemies. This was not His command nor law for them. It is a description of slavery, not liberty, for they were (as are we) called to liberty, under the Lord.

Some of our Christian brethren are shouting at us that in all circumstances it is our duty to turn the other cheek. This philosophy derives from the idea that only the New Testament may be used to inform our doctrine. When I ask people online how they might defend this idea my questions are either ignored, or the discussion abandoned. They cannot answer any close questions as to why the Old Testament has, by them, been rendered of no account. Like the Pharisees, they have strained out a gnat and swallowed a camel. The foolishness of modern American evangelicalism is often bared to daylight when we start discussing issues about how to actually live in this fallen world. They have eliminated the Old Testament which makes up about 70% of the entire Bible. Then, they stumble around the New Testament text snapping at theological mismatches of verse and doctrine, attempting to make sense of their, now, truncated Book. All of this derives to the detriment of the kingdom and the church.

When the Jewish people returned from captivity in Babylon to re-build the Temple and the holy city, they met tough resistance. As work on the city walls advanced their enemies began to offer threats. There was no army to protect this frightened band of inchoate settlers. Sensing the doom of their righteous project, Nehemiah instructs them to arm themselves. They are to carry a sword or spear in one hand and raise the stone walls with the other. He tells them to fight (Nehemiah 4:14), “for your brothers, your sons, your daughters, your wives, and your houses.” That is what the chosen people (remember the New Testament calls us the chosen people), were to fight for under Godly law. This is not instruction for only Jewish settlers in Jerusalem. Rather, it establishes a moral paradigm for righteous men. We are to be defenders of our brothers, our sons, our daughters, wives, and houses. This is a definition of righteousness for Godly people. Now, we are being told to abandon that right principle and become slaves dependent upon the state.

We may ask if there is any New Testament principle that might inform our doctrine concerning the carrying or use of weapons. If we remind ourselves that we are to treat our neighbor as ourselves the answer remains unchanged from our Old Testament lessons. Suppose I were to find myself in a parking lot with a couple of guys kicking in my ribs. I would be glowingly pleased to have any of my neighbors step in with a hand gun, machine gun, or assault rifle to save my life. Most of us would consider that to be right neighborly. In my view, it would not matter a wit if the person saving me had a banana clip on his assault rifle or if the flash suppressor were illegal. The Old Testament principle of fighting for our brothers is a fundamentally righteous principle that carries forward into the New Testament era. Basic morality has not changed. The New Testament has not morphed right principle into nothing but a bunch of love and hugging. We need love and hugs, but we also need safety, liberty, and justice. All of these are discovered in the sphere of Biblically-based action.

The current political situation seems to be pushing us toward new laws for gun control. The sin nature of man always pushes fearful men to seek safety in the state. It appears that most Americans would prefer to unburden themselves from the duty to defend our neighbors and families and have the state provide that service. Jeremiah informs us that the human heart is desperately wicked and seeks to do evil continually. This principle applies both to those who run the government and to the governed. If the citizens are unarmed, and helpless before a power-hungry civil government, the results are always the same. Over time, that government will follow its sinful bent and murder its own citizens. An armed citizenry is the right answer, and I mean the doctrinally right answer, to limiting tyranny and defending what is ours. The civil government may go so far but no further. They do not have a right to take everything. They cannot rightfully take our wives, or daughters, our houses – or guns. The right to own weapons is implicit in the command to defend.

This concept of citizens having a duty to defend their liberty used to be well understood by our Christian ancestors. Even as late as World War II the Japanese Imperial Naval Commander-in Chief, Isoroku Yamamoto is said to have warned, “You cannot invade the mainland United States. There would be a rifle behind every blade of grass.” That was a compliment to the American men of that time. Those cheering for our personal disarmament would have us wear chains rather than the accoutrements of warfare. I will not volunteer for chains.

– Don Schanzenbach

2 thoughts on “The Right to Bear Arms: A Biblical and Historical View

  1. Luke 22:35 And he said unto them, When I sent you without purse, and scrip, and shoes, lacked ye any thing? And they said, Nothing.

    Luke 22:36 Then said he unto them, But now, he that hath a purse, let him take it, and likewise his scrip: and he that hath no sword, let him sell his garment, and buy one.

    Jesus told them if you have no sword sell a garment and buy one, in other words arm yourselves.

    Lets take a look deeper into the context and see why Jesus told his disciples to bear arms. After they took up arms Jesus takes them to a place called Gethsemane were he prayed earnestly 3 times for his cup to pass before him. The cup was to give himself over to the enemy.

    Luke 22:40 And when he was at the place, he said unto them, Pray that ye enter not into temptation.

    Jesus knew that the enemy was at the door for it was his hour to drink this cup. So he tells his armed disciples to pray that they don’t get into any conflict. Leaving them there to stand guard he separates Peter, James, and John, surnamed Cephas and Boanerges, who later became the pillars of the church. Every time the stakes were high spiritually he would separate these three. These three men were armed also. Leaving them he went a little further and begin to commune with God.

    Luke 22:45 And when he rose up from prayer, and was come to his disciples, he found them sleeping for sorrow,

    Luke 22:47 And while he yet spake, behold a multitude, and he that was called Judas, one of the twelve, went before them, and drew near unto Jesus to kiss him.

    This was the third time Jesus came back and found his disciples sleeping. While he was speaking to them Judas along with a multitude show up to capture Jesus by force.

    Luke 22:49 When they which were about him saw what would follow, they said unto him, Lord, shall we smite with the sword?

    When the disciples began to wake up to what was going on they were ready to defend him with the sword. This was not the spiritual sword which they knew how to use. But they were ready to defend him with a physical sword.

    Luke 22:50 And one of them smote the servant of the high priest, and cut off his right ear.

    One of the disciples when they laid their hands on him, and took Jesus cut off the ear of one of the enemy, like a warning shot. Which demonstrated his skill with the sword.

    Luke 22:51 And Jesus answered and said, Suffer ye thus far. And he touched his ear, and healed him.

    Jesus told his disciple to stand down or suffer ye thus far because he needed to fulfill scripture. Not because the disciple was doing anything wrong.

    Mt 26:52 Then said Jesus unto him, Put up again thy sword into his place: for all they that take the sword shall perish with the sword.

    When Jesus told this disciple that cut off the ear to “put up again thy sword” he wasn’t reproving or correcting him he was giving him instruction in righteousness. Which was to stand down because he needed to fulfill scripture. Since Jesus could not give them the green light to engage he reminds the disciple that if you take the sword you’ll perish with the sword. The word take comes from the Greek word {lambano} which means to receive into manifestation. When you are actively engaged in battle people are going to die. We see this every day. There was no need for any of his disciples to die that day. Jesus goes on to say.

    Mt 26:53 Thinkest thou that I cannot now pray to my Father, and he shall presently give me more than twelve legions of angels?

    Again he is not reproving that disciple who cut off the ear. This is exactly what Jesus had just been doing. Praying earnestly to the father to the point that the sweat on his face was the size of blood drops, yet no twelve legions of angels.

    Mt 26:54 But how then shall the scriptures be fulfilled, that thus it must be?

    If God would have sent twelve legions of angels how could he fulfill scripture?

    If Jesus would have allowed his disciples to fight for his freedom how could he fulfill scripture?

    Mt 26:56 But all this was done, that the scriptures of the prophets might be fulfilled…

    One thing is for sure when Jesus came to this battle he came fully armed both physically and spiritually.

    Luke 22:52 Then Jesus said unto the chief priests, and captains of the temple, and the elders, which were come to him, Be ye come out, as against a thief, with swords and staves?

    Jesus knew that they were after him and that they would be armed. The reason Jesus told the disciples to take up arms was for the purpose of self-defense. He wasn’t pursuing anyone yet he was being pursued by armed men and was innocent.

    So what do you do when armed men are coming after your freedom? What would Jesus do?

    Take up arms for the purpose of self-defense.

    The Lord Jesus himself was not armed with one sword but two swords.

    Luke 22:38 And they said, Lord, behold, here are two swords. And he said unto them, It is enough.

    Jesus must have been a master swordsman to bear two swords. He didn’t say that it is too many. He said, “It is enough”.

    Later while being interrogated by Pilate we learn in verse 36 of John that if Jesus could have gotten a green light in the garden of Gethsemane he and his disciples would have fought. Not only would they fight but they would win that Jesus would not be delivered to the Jews.

    John 18:36 Jesus answered, My kingdom is not of this world: if my kingdom were of this world, then would my servants fight, that I should not be delivered to the Jews: but now is my kingdom not from hence.

    Thus he said “then would my servants fight, that I should not be delivered to the Jews”.

  2. I take two swords to mean one sword a physical one and the other the word of God. With these two who can stand against us?

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