What Does the Bible Say about Self-Defense?

The Bible does support self-defense. While Christ does denounce retaliation and revenge, He does not prohibit acting in self-defense. Therefore, believers are not sinning when they defend themselves or others from harm and suffering.

Woman boxing

Security is important in the modern world. Cybersecurity, advanced technological home safety systems, and knowledge of self-defense tactics are abounding in society. Christians also seek security in their churches and home, with self-defense classes sometimes offered by churches.

Although it can be easy to make assumptions about safety, the first concern for the follower of Christ should be what the Lord says about any subject, including personal safety and defense.

Relevant passages about self-defense can be found in Scripture, which includes specific statements and examples of faithful followers of God engaging in the protection of themselves and others.

What Does Turn the Other Cheek Mean?

One of the main verses involved in the discussion of self-defense includes Matthew 5:39 when Jesus talks about turning the other cheek. 

The Lord stated, “’You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’ But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also” (Matthew 5:38-39, NIV).

Many Christians read this verse and wonder if Jesus means that they should allow themselves to be harmed and not defend themselves.

When examining this verse, it is important to understand that Jesus is directly referring to Old Testament passages that deal with the law of retaliation (Exodus 21:24; Leviticus 24:20).

Based on these verses, God intended to limit the retaliation involved with wrong acts. Christ affirms this but focuses on people willing to give up their rights and endure slights against themselves.

Many commentators emphasize that the slap on the face could be referring to an insult, but even a slap on the face is not life-threatening. Instead of responding in retaliation, Christ urges a selfless attitude by turning the other cheek and going the extra mile (Matthew 5:39-41).

This teaching of non-retaliation is reflected in the writings of the apostles as well. Believers are reminded, “Do not repay anyone evil for evil” (Romans 12:17, NIV) and “do not repay evil with evil or insult with insult” (1 Peter 3:9, NIV).

These verses are not about self-defense, but rather about retaliation. As Jesus taught, Christians are not to offensively retaliate against someone for being wronged.

Scriptural Examples of Self-Defense

The Bible speaks against vengeful retaliation but does not forbid self-defense. There are many examples of people who defended themselves against attack.

For instance, Esther requested that the Jews be able to defend themselves against the murderous attack by the Persians, which was planned by the villain, Haman (Esther 8:3-6).

The Jews were allowed to fight against their attackers and successfully defended themselves from the intended annihilation, showing God’s work in the events to protect and preserve His chosen people (Esther 8:11; 9:1-2). Jewish people continue to observe a holiday, called Purim, to remember the events recorded in the Book of Esther (Esther 9:18-32).

In a similar fashion, the Israelites armed themselves for protection when they rebuilt the wall around Jerusalem under the guidance of Nehemiah (Nehemiah 4:11-18). In fact, Scripture records that the Israelites “did their work with one hand and held a weapon in the other” (Nehemiah 4:17, NIV).

The builders of the wall even wore their swords as they worked (Nehemiah 4:18). While the Israelites were ready to defend themselves if their enemies tried to attack them to stop them from rebuilding the wall, they did not actively war against their enemies.

Thus, Scripture does include examples of people acting in self-defense. Believers today can and should seek to protect themselves and others from harm. The Bible even includes an example of a man protecting himself and his family from a thief in the night (Exodus 22:2-3).

Acting in defense of oneself or others includes standing up for those who are defenseless as well as defending oneself against physical, mental, spiritual, and sexual harm. For instance, if a man or woman is being physically attacked or sexually assaulted, these individuals should try to fight back against their attacker.

They are not sinning for trying to protect themselves. Christians are not supposed to allow themselves to be “doormats,” who allow anyone to do as they please with them. Instead, they can defend themselves and seek the well-being of the weak and helpless (Psalm 82:3).

Regarding the spiritual realm, which is discussed numerous times in God’s Word, believers are also encouraged to defend themselves “against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms” (Ephesians 6:12, NIV).

Satan is described as a roaring lion seeking to devour believers (1 Peter 5:8), which is why Christians should be aware of the devil’s schemes (2 Corinthians 2:11).

In the epistle to the Ephesians, Paul uses the imagery of the armor and weapons of the Roman soldiers to describe the different aspects of a Christian’s armor to protect themselves against Satan’s attacks (Ephesians 6:10-20).

Consequently, protecting oneself and others is not limited to the physical realm, but includes the spiritual realm as well.

Persecution and Self-Defense

While self-defense is needed in many circumstances, persecution for the cause of Christ is dealt with differently in Scripture. Throughout the New Testament, persecution for faith in Jesus is seen as a privilege for believers to endure.

Jesus said, “‘Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you’” (Matthew 5:10-12, NIV).

Enduring suffering because of one’s faith in Jesus will bring about heavenly rewards. The disciples recognized this truth after they were flogged for preaching the Name of Jesus (Acts 5:40-41).

Generally, most followers of Christ described in the Bible willingly endured suffering because of their trust in Jesus. There are times when people fled from persecution, but even this was used by God to spread the gospel (Acts 8:1, 4).

At other times, persecution was avoided because of its hindrance to the message of Jesus’ death and resurrection. For instance, Paul deliberately defended himself against being whipped by claiming the rights of a Roman citizen to avoid unnecessary delay (Acts 22:24-25).

Thus, at certain times seeking defense against persecution is advisable and needed. However, most instances of persecution involve a deliberate decision to faithfully follow Christ and give up personal rights.

Love for Jesus and the passionate need to spread His message to the world is so important that His followers should be willing to lay down their lives (John 15:13; 1 John 3:16).

Suffering persecution for the cause of Christ is a privilege since Jesus suffered and laid down His life to free the world from slavery to sin and death (John 10:18; Romans 8:2).

Protecting Oneself and Others

The Bible does support self-defense. Many examples are given in Scripture of followers of God seeking to protect themselves and others from harm. While Christ does denounce retaliation and revenge, He does not prohibit acting in self-defense. Therefore, believers are not sinning when they defend themselves or others from harm and suffering.

For further reading:

What Does 'An Eye for an Eye' Mean? 

Why Is Revenge Only for the Lord to Take?

What Does the Bible Say about Revenge?

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Sophia Bricker is a freelance writer who enjoys researching and writing articles on biblical and theological topics. In addition to contributing articles about biblical questions as a contract writer, she has also written for Unlocked devotional. Holding a Bachelor of Arts in Ministry and currently pursuing a Master of Arts in Ministry, she is passionate about the Bible and her faith in Jesus. When she isn’t busy studying or writing, Sophia enjoys spending time with family, reading, drawing, and gardening.