Where the Political Process Breaks Down

Asking the “Congress to confront America’s idolatry of guns was asking the fox to guard the chickens.” In fact, as Upton Sinclair put it, “It is very difficult to get someone to understand something when his salary, or his power is dependent on not understanding it.” Whatever the church has done to cajole or convince Congress to take gun safety or control has been outdone by the NRA. James Atwood, in fact, says he failed to take the Bible and Calvin more seriously. He was too optimistic about Congress and the good will of humans to realize that gun control/safety is more than willpower; it is not just a political issue; it is a spiritual issue; it is about idolatry. This is all discussed in Atwood’s fine book, America and Its Guns: A Theological Exposé.

This week we experienced again another godawful event, this time in Texas, where a man was to be served papers of eviction from a home and when the constable approached the house the man inside gunned the constable to death with a [semi-] automatic weapon. He then killed an innocent civilian — and wounded others, some seriously. We should not be saying “people kill people, guns don’t kill people.” We should be saying, “the only guns that kill people are guns used by humans.”

The church should lead the way in exhibiting peaceful approaches to life and conflict, and Christians should lead the way in seeking — at the least — serious examination of gun laws and gun safety and access to guns. How many have to die before this is an issue? How many times to do we have to say America has a gun violence problem?

Hear this: “Former NRA executive, Warren Cassidy, … ‘You would get a far better understanding of the NRA if you were approaching us as one of the great religions of the world’” (19-20). For some people, possession and use of a gun is intoxicating, and the intoxicant is power and the control of someone else’s life.

But isn’t “idolatrous” too strong of a term? James Atwood, who has probably thought about gun control as much, if not more, than any American alive today has reflected on this very issue and sees gun idolatry in the following three elements:

1. When an owner [of a gun] believes there are no circumstances when a regulation or restriction for public safety should be placed upon it [the gun/the owner].
2. When an owner believes that guns don’t kill; they only save lives.
3. When an owner has no doubt that guns preserve America’s most cherished values.

He also mentions other elements, like deep emotional attachment to guns, anger when anyone questions gun values, when no preventive measures are supported, show little to no grief for those who have experienced gun violence, vigorously oppose any restrictions of sales of guns, claim an absolute right to use their guns against the government if they consider it tyrannical, claim the blessing of God on the weapon, and believe the solution to gun violence is more guns.

About Scot McKnight

Scot McKnight is a recognized authority on the New Testament, early Christianity, and the historical Jesus. McKnight, author of more than fifty books, is the Professor of New Testament at Northern Seminary in Lombard, IL.

  • Barb

    I’m reading this book now–I’m glad to see it discussed. As i read I wonder what we, the church, should be doing.

  • http://communityofjesus.wordpress.com/ Ted M. Gossard

    Idolatry does take so many many forms. Nearly anything. But when it is entrenched as part of the culture, it makes it hard to see that it is idolatrous. It’s taken for granted that this is just the way things are, and is not to be questioned.

    One devout Christian was shocked when I told him that we’re not supposed to live according to the United States Constitution. He asked me what we’re to live according to, then. My answer then was the Sermon on the Mount. I don’t know if that made any sense to him or not. I would think so.

    (I recently saw an American flag and a Christian flag on the same mast, the American flag on top.)

  • http://communityofjesus.wordpress.com/ Ted M. Gossard

    …of course I know the Constitution/Sermon on the Mount issue can be seen as contextual. We do have to abide by the laws of the land. But our law and King is different. Do we really see, believe and live by that?

  • Fish

    As a former NRA member (and ashamed of it) and one who knows many, many members, I’ve never heard anyone ever question a single statement made by the NRA. Their words are taken as inerrant truth. As Americans, we tend to place our individual freedom* on the same level as God, and we’ve made the NRA the savior of that freedom.

    * Although I do wonder how I can be considered “free” if I cannot leave my home without worrying about being shot down in the street. Or in the theater. Or at my child’s school.

  • scotmcknight

    Fish, that is one of the major points I see in Atwood’s book: freedom on steroids.

  • http://nateduffy.blogspot.com Nathan Duffy

    I easily see how guns can and do often become items of idolatry (what doesn’t/can’t?) But you can believe slightly nuanced variations of 1, 2, and 3 without necessarily committing idolatry. Since they’re essentially true, it’s easy.

  • http://www.dereksweatman.tumblr.com Derek Sweatman

    We should not be saying “people kill people, guns don’t kill people.” We should be saying, “the only guns that kill people are guns used by humans.”

    That’s a nice turn! Very well written.

    Grace & Peace,
    Derek

  • Greg D

    I think the idolatry of guns is interconnected to some of the other idols of Americans. Idols such as patriotism, nationalism, and militarism… all of which involve guns. Now that I see it, these idols involve violence of some form or another. Therefore, can we assume that the idolatry is not so much guns in of themselves, but violence as a whole? How often do Christians tend to have a disdain for nudity or profanity in movies, but turn a blind eye to violence? Many Christians tend to focus on the blood of Jesus, but not the resurrected Christ. And, the talk of damnation, hell, lake of fire, and gnashing of teeth seem to be a prevalent topic within the American church, but no so much found in other Christian cultures around the world.

    Thinking out loud. Thoughts?

  • Barb

    Last night I looked at the blog of a well-known Pastor who posted pictures of his vacation. there were only two or three pictures but a prominent one was of him and two other men holding up their guns at after target practice. Although I don’t condemn him for this sport –I do think way less of him after seeing THAT picture as chosen to represent his fun times–I’m still wondering why he did that?

  • Larry Barber

    If it really was an automatic weapon, and I can’t find anything detailing what weapons were used, it should be noted that those are already illegal for civilians to own except in very rare instances.

    I would also be interested in knowing the details behing this eviction, after all if our society was treating the shooter in a heartless and uncompassionate way (and banks are famous for compassionsate treatment of their customers/victims) one really shouldn’t be too surprised if he reacted in the same way. Not trying to excuse what he did, but if you treat someone like his humanity doesn’t matter, you can expect them to react in a non-humane way.

  • adam

    It seems that gun deaths perhaps are so horrific and “violent” that they garnish a more honest “theological/spiritual” response, but other deaths by human sinfulness are marginalized and overlooked. The reason being, we simply don’t like guns for whatever reason but we do like, for instance, alcohol.
    It seems logical to suggest that alcohol abuse is a parallel to gun violence. Alcohol abuse is a violent crime and a true horror lived out in millions of homes every single day. Why not decry that in the streets and call for better, “alcohol control laws?” Reason being, perhaps we like drinking, (in moderation), thus we don’t reflect upon the violence of alcohol abuse, or really see the need for an overly “spiritual/theological” charge to be led against all alcohol in all places like we do guns. But couldn’t we say even on the topic of alcohol-abuse, “the only beers that kill people are beers consumed by humans.” Thus, beers are out of control! Let’s legislate them out of existence! Then, and only then will we have that much needed alcohol free utopia!

  • Dave

    This is an issue that I still struggle with. I realize that guns do enable the possessor a huge degree of power that not all people are capable of handling in a controlled and safe manner. ON the flip side, however, I don’t functionally see how strict pacifism can work in a fallen world either. I have met and interacted with people who have problems with Christianity because they perceive it as being pacifistic. The problem usually being expressed as a justice issue framed as, “Where is the justice when you have to let your own family be killed in order to satisfy the demands of Christ?” I’m not sure this is a good question, but I know it has caused people, including myself, to struggle.

    I also think in terms of preventing violence being done to those who are being oppressed. As Christians, I think we have a duty to stand up for those who are being oppressed or harmed in our society. Obviously, this can take many different forms, such as taking a stand on social justice issues, but what about situations where physical violence is being done? As a simple example, if you see someone being attacked by and armed criminal, what do you do? I know that a gun isn’t always the best solution in such a scenario, but if someone adheres to a strict pacifism, can you even do anything to intervene?

    I agree Jesus commands us to love our enemies. All rhetoric aside for a moment, how does one define who is an enemy? This is something I have wrestled with when facing these issues. If someone I have never met breaks into my home in the middle of the night with the intent to do harm to me or my family is he an enemy? (If it is just a robbery, he can take my stuff. I would never kill someone over property.) I usually think of an enemy as someone I have put thought into consciously decided to oppose for some reason or another. In a quick, heat-of-the-moment situation like a break-in, it doesn’t seem like an enemy because it would be operating in an almost survival like mode, not a considered decision to oppose this person. I’m not sure that makes sense, as it is hard for me to put into words.

    Even if we have to agree to disagree, I appreciate that you have again raised this thorny issue for dialogue and debate!

    God Bless.

  • Dave

    #11 Adam,

    They did try that in the prohibition era and found out it doesn’t work.

    This is largely why I don’t see gun control actually doing much good. It is already almost impossible for a normal citizen to legally acquire an automatic weapon, and we had a 10 year ban on “assault weapons” that recently expired. Neither have done much to prevent gun crime.

  • http://www.thinkershandbook.com Thinker’s Handbook

    We should not be saying “people kill people, guns don’t kill people.” We should be saying, “the only guns that kill people are guns used by humans.”

    And out of the “guns used by humans,” for every one used to kill, there are 12,653 guns that are not used to kill.

    And when using those other 12,653 non-murder guns, murder rates are reduced by 8.5%, rape by 5%, and severe assault by 7%.

    If those 12,653 non-murder guns were allowed to be carried everywhere in our country, it would save 1,600 lives, 4,200 rape victims, and 60,000 severe assault victims over a 15 year period.

  • Luke Allison

    Just to clarify, the shooter in the Texas A&M incident was using semi-automatic weapons, just like the shooter in Aurora, just like the shooter in Wisconsin, and just like every other shooter.

    Not a huge deal, but it’s an important distinction to make: an automatic weapon would indicate some level of illegality in most states. Semi-auto is available and legal everywhere. “Assault rifles” as described in the news are semi-auto versions of military-grade weaponry. In the Army, you learn how to fire an M-16 one shot at a time, and you learn how to do it effectively and easily. One bullet is enough to end life.

    These are important distinctions to make in order to be taken seriously by the more educated opponents of gun control, who already see us as uninformed hippies with no testicular fortitude.

    Either way, guns are ridiculous in America.

  • http://paroikos.com Rob Ely

    “Christians should lead the way in seeking — at the least — serious examination of gun laws and gun safety and access to guns. How many have to die before this is an issue? How many times to do we have to say America has a gun violence problem?”

    I would rather ask, how many times do we have to say America has a SIN problem? With or without guns, people have been killing people since Cane and Abel. What are we, the church, to do? How about start BEING the church. Pray! Be bold in sharing your faith. Be uncompromising in your walk with God. We are a people set apart.

    Now that won’t solve the problem all of a sudden. Until Christ returns, there will always be murders. There will always be crimes. There will always be hate and unstable people. But perhaps we can save some. Perhaps we can make a difference. Perhaps we can make a difference in the life of that one person who otherwise would have become the next Aurora shooter. Who but God knows?

  • SamB

    Dave (#12)
    You wrote ” I know that a gun isn’t always the best solution in such a scenario, but if someone adheres to a strict pacifism, can you even do anything to intervene?”

    Strict pacifism as I understand it requires us to intervene. It is to place ourselves between those who hurt and those who are causing the hurt, believing in our hearts (or coming to believe) that Jesus rose from the dead so we don’t have to fear death and can follow Jesus bearing our cross, our part of the suffering that remains as God’s kingdom brakes in. I remember Dr. Martin Luther King saying that the blood that will flow as they confronted the violence of rascism must only be theirs, the one’s who were protesting; they must overcome evil with love.

  • DerekMc

    Thinkers Handbook, where are you getting your data from?

  • http://www.thinkershandbook.com Thinker’s Handbook

    John R. Lott, “More Guns, Less Crime”
    Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Injury, mortality statistics

    One other interesting one. Due to those 12,653 good guns to every bad 1, 2.1 million crimes are prevented every year. This from Kates, “Gun Control” in Journal of Contemporary Law.

  • Brandon

    That book sounds interesting Dr McKnight. I also found this book fascinating and somewhat counter initiative:

    http://www.press.uchicago.edu/Misc/Chicago/493636.html/

    My experience with people in the NRA has not been rabid and blind loyalty but a common interest and desire to be protected by an ever expansive government. I am sure they-the blind followers exist somewhere I just don’t know any.

  • http://www.eric-michael.com EricMichaelSay

    Greg D #8 brings up my biggest point. I dropped out of the culture of violence in the US when I was 20 (eight years ago). Why would I expose myself to violent entertainment every day when this isn’t a part of my reality, nor do I want it to be a part of my reality? So I stopped playing Grand Theft Auto, avoided watching films with realistic violence, and found a revitalization of my empathetic muscles.

    #12 brings up pacifism as if it is ‘passivism’, which is a comment misunderstanding.

    Sam #17 offers a great response to #12.

    I think the biggest issue with the church getting involved is that, when it comes to violence, we have a pragmatic view that is not based on sacrifice and the promise of resurrection.

  • Dave

    #21:

    “#12 brings up pacifism as if it is ‘passivism’, which is a comment misunderstanding.”

    If it is a misunderstanding, then please correct it. The reason for my post was for someone to explain just this very thing. The ways I’ve read pacifism explained I find to be functionally the same as passivism.

    The problem I see with #17 is that placing of ourselves between the hurt and the one causing the hurt often requires the use of physical violence. This is where I don’t understand the way most Christian pacifists construct their position (primarily drawing from the writings of Ben Witherington, Scot McKnight and what I’ve read of Yoder).

    Allow me to explain: The Christian pacifists that I have read appeal to passages such as “love your enemy” and “turn the other cheek” when arguing against guns. Yet they all seem to take the position of Sam in #17 that you can insert yourself into violent situations to end them. Unless there is an unrealistic amount of idealism about what it means to come between the oppressed and the oppressors (given there are situations where it can be done non-violently, but certainly not in all scenarios), there will be some use of force in the intervention.

    What I don’t understand in this construct is how the passages are seemingly interpreted to restrict guns, but not all violence? Is it a matter of degree? If so, what is the Biblical support for that? Or is it just the idea that only doing a little violence (non-lethal use of force) more OK in a fallen world the a lot of violence (lethal use of a gun). If that is the case, it becomes a “lesser of two evils” approach that would seem to belie the hard line stance against the evilness of guns.

    Please don’t take this as being argumentative, this is something that I have been genuinely wrestling with for awhile now. Still trying to come to a satisfactory conclusion.

  • DerekMc

    Dave, a book that engages your questions is “A Faith Not Worth Fighting For: Adressing Commonly Asked Questions about Christian Nonviolence”. York & Barringer, Cascade Books

    Your points are well made and deserve full engagement.

  • http://mattdabbs.wordpress.com Matt Dabbs

    Scot,

    Anything taken to an extreme becomes idolatry. Also, you wrote, “For some people, possession and use of a gun is intoxicating, and the intoxicant is power and the control of someone else’s life.” – We normally call those people criminals and there are already hundreds of laws on the books (some estimate thousands) in order to address criminals possessing firearms but that hasn’t seemed to help the situation much at all. There are people who don’t find firearms intoxicating and who don’t intend to use firearms to control the lives of others. That is why you said “for some” because there is a group that doesn’t fit what you wrote…the vast majority of law abiding gun owners.

  • http://www.eric-michael.com EricMichaelSay

    #22 Dave

    I think where Pacifism differs from the other approaches is that it is not looking at stopping violence with violence, or allowing violence to continue by abstaining from violence. it is stopping violence with non-violence.

    Lets use the scenario of the person being robbed. Lets put this in a dark New York alley (for fun), and say it’s a man with a handgun robbing a woman (who will be of no help in a scuffle). So, you walk upon this scene, and the usual dichotomy is, pacifist feels conflicted and walks on by with nothing he can do, or average Joe walks by, perfectly prepared to intervene thanks to his concealed-carry permit and training.

    Actually, what a pacifist should do is open to any number of different things. Could he startle or scare the robber? Is it possible the robber is jumpy because he doesn’t normally rob people, so he will be easy to scare off? Could the pacifist take the cash out of his wallet, deposit is wallet in a trash can, and offer himself to be robbed in exchange for the woman? Could he bluff that the police are on the way? Perhaps he just injects himself into the situation as a hostage-negotiator would and allows the both of them to get robbed while offering an additional witness and complication to what would have been an easy robbery.

    If it were me, I wouldn’t have a problem with using force to protect an innocent or stop a crime. Sometimes force is necessary, even for a pacifist-anarchist.

  • Dave

    Derek: Thanks for the book recommendation, I’ll look into it.

    Eric:

    Thanks for your explanation, I appreciate you taking the time to discuss this.

    I tend to think what you are positing in the situation may be plausible, but I also think it is equally plausible for the offender to turn violent on the pacifist or the original victim. At that point what should one do (asking genuinely because I don’t know)? Does the perpetrator in some sense forfeit his right to life if that means the pacifist and the original victim walk away? Can that be supported Biblically? I don’t know.

    On the flip side, is it more Biblical to be willing to give up your life for the victim? On the face of it, it would seem so, but then there may be nothing stopping the perpetrator from continuing to do harm to the victim.

    I am intrigued by your willingness to use force to stop a crime, as I am whenever any pacifist says this. I don’t see any way around that stance other than a lesser of two evils approach, which to me makes a hard-line stance against guns difficult, as I tried to explain above. If force is always against the teachings of Jesus, why is a non-lethal force ever OK? Why not use a gun to ensure the safety of the victim? Potentially more evil by using lethal force, but maybe more good by guaranteeing a saved life.

    A lot for me to think on!

  • EricMichaelSay

    In my mind preventing an act of violence or sin with the use of lesser violence, when it will protect an Innocent, makes sense. If said robber were instead a rapist in a compromised position (kneeling or prone) I would have no Problem with kicking him in the face to stop him. Part of the reason is “do into others”, and I would want someone to look after my welbeing if I were about to cOmmit a sin or crime that would have adverse spiritual consequences.

    By the way, I did not mean to belittle your previous comments regarding pacifism, only that it is the most common misconception.

  • BradK

    “When an owner believes that guns don’t kill; they only save lives.”

    Is there any gun owner anywhere who actually believes this? If so, I have never met him/her. And I have met a LOT of them. This is clearly a straw man.

  • scotmcknight

    Matt, and others…

    I find the lack of a biblical defense of the use of guns telling. Of course, there are no guns in the Bible, but how can we square guns with the ethical message of the NT. What I am finding is poking holes in criticisms — it’s not “always” idolatrous — and appeal to the US Const and pragmatics. Perhaps you and some others could offer a biblical defense of possession of guns, instruments made to kill.

  • EricMichaelSay

    Luke 22:36 is one verse I’ve discussed with a Marine in the past. His view was that passage, along with the assumption that it was common to carry swords for protection from bandits, constitutes a biblical mandate for believers to carry weapons. Add a reading of Jesus through an OT lens, and you get the idea. He even went so far as to argue that Paul was executed because he wasn’t wise as a serpent…

    Any other arguments out there?

  • JayGor

    Scott, I’m not completely sure of the context in which Jesus says the following in Luke (see below), but he does state to his followers to purchase swords (weapons intended for defense or to cause harm). He’s pretty intentional about this, too, having recounted how in the past when he sent them out they needed no provisions or equipment. But now something has changed and its imperative that his followers purchase or trade for swords. So, we have the Lord telling us to turn the other cheek and telling us to arm ourselves? Are both true? Then again, as I read it perhaps the swords were only needed to fulfill scripture so they could be counted as “transgressors.”

    Luke 22:35-38
    35 And he said to them, “When I sent you out with no moneybag or knapsack or sandals, did you lack anything?” They said, “Nothing.”
    36 He said to them, “But now let the one who has a moneybag take it, and likewise a knapsack. And let the one who has no sword sell his cloak and buy one.
    37 For I tell you that this Scripture must be fulfilled in me: ‘And he was numbered with the transgressors.’ For what is written about me has its fulfillment.”
    38 And they said, “Look, Lord, here are two swords.” And he said to them, “It is enough.”

  • DerekMc

    Eric, how did the Marine respond to the actual use of the sword later in the same chapter where Jesus says “enough of this” and heals the servant?

  • Home On The Range

    *sigh* So, we take all the guns away, then only the crazies and criminals have guns. Great. And the police are how many miles away? Yeah, no, I have often wondered how many lives might have been saved if just one person in that Aurora theater had been able to shoot back. I don’t care how many laws for gun control are made, they will only leave the rest of us sitting ducks.

  • http://www.eric-michael.com EricMichaelSay

    His response was that Jesus ‘had’ to die. I think his perspective was that Jesus, as God, foreknew the cross, its necessity, and made a unique decision not to defend himself. I think his position would be that Jesus’ example wasn’t something to be followed in going to the cross, but an exceptional event in all of history; a strategic move on Gods part.

  • DerekMc

    Since several posters have mentioned “take away all the guns” refrain, I will point out that James Atwood is a gun owner himself. I’m in chapter 6 of the book in question and so far there is no mention of taking away all the guns. A call for a discussion of the role and place of guns in American civil society and what role the church has is the primary topic so far. There are many more chapter to go.

  • dmichael100

    The Biblical answer is simply “What can man do to me?” In the book of Hebrews believer’s possessions are taken out of their homes and burned; they are put in prison– all things that all of you attempting to navigate a “balanced” position would advocate using a firearm. You wouldn’ protect property you say? Jesus tells his disciples that some of them “would be killed” (and he didn’t tell them to use their swords! The Luke passage is weak ground to base Christian gun ownership on. “It is enough” is essentially “enough of this talk of swords”
    So the Biblical response? For the believer its a question of” where’s your hope? The saints in Hebrews who were being put in prison, killed were commended because “they knew they had a better possession.”

  • http://abramkj.wordpress.com/ Abram K-J

    That book looks really interesting.

    I appreciate: “How many have to die before this is an issue?”

    I remember after the VA Tech shooting a few years ago, a bunch of people said it was a bad/insensitive time to talk about a “political” issue like gun control. But when else are we going to talk about it? In fact, what better time than when a shooting brings the issue to the fore?

    It’s encouraging to see someone tackle this from a theological angle–looking forward to checking it out.

  • http://www.thinkershandbook.com Thinker’s Handbook

    Here’s where I would go with a biblical defense of guns.

    1. It is right to defend ourselves when we can and to avoid harm. We should not just allow a violent attack to come our way – 1 Sam. 19:10; 2 Cor. 11:32-33; Luke 4:29-30; John 8:59; John 10:39. In Luke 22:36-38, as brought up by someone before, Jesus encourages his disciples to have swords for self-defense. 1 Cor. 6:19-20 says to take care of our body and not encourage actions that will harm them. Notice in Matt. 26:52 where Jesus rebukes Peter for cutting off the servants ear, Peter had a sword, and it apparently was ok since, Jesus did not say to get rid of it, but to put it back in its place.

    2. It is right to use weapons for self-defense. We see from Luke 22:36-38 and Matt. 26:52 that Jesus’ disciples carried weapons for self-defense. In that time, the sword was the weapon that could make attackers and victims somewhat even. If a large man was attacking a weak man, if the weak man was trained in the sword, he could likely defend himself. The sword worked well enough that it was a deterrent, and would help in defense when the Roman officials were not near by.

    3. Obviously guns are not in the NT. But I think it is reasonable to replace the swords of the NT with the guns of today. They are affordable by most, they equalize opponents, they deter, they can be used in defense when waiting for authorities, and largest of all, they save lives (as studies have shown).

    4. Beyond that, the right to own guns upholds the Second Amendment, protects the right to self-defense, is a protection against tyranny, and deters violent crime (2.1 million crimes a year are deterred by guns).

  • Greg D

    Luke 22:35-38 is the most commonly cited passage by those Christians who love their guns. Ironically, it is so taken out of context. When Jesus is referring to the “sword” here, he is not referring to a weapon. A sword commonly carried by Jews at the time of Jesus was actually closer to a scabbard (see Greek: machaira). A scabbard is a long knife (similar to today’s utility knife) used for cutting fish and nets, skinning animals, carving wood, and slicing food. So, when Jesus suggested to His disciples to buy a sword, He wasn’t commanding them to buy a weapon to kill people. Instead He was suggesting they buy a tool used for working because they will need one in their employ as traveling missionaries.

  • http://www.thinkershandbook.com Thinker’s Handbook

    Thanks Greg, for your response. However, I disagree. Neither am I someone who loves my guns.

    1. Swords carried at that time were meant for protection against robbers during the many dangerous travels, including the trip they took in the next verses of Luke 22. It is also used for capital punishment and wars.

    2. Such a sword was used by Peter in Matt. 26:52 to cut off the ear of the servant. Jesus understood that such a sword was used for war and fighting, including Peter’s sword.

    3. Strong’s describes the Greek machaira as a knife, figuratively as war, as that used for taking a life in capital punishment, and as a derivative of mache, which is a battle or a fight.

    4. Machaira, or sword, is used in quite a few verses, all of which are used to kill or put people to death. Acts 12:2, Acts 16:27, Hebrews 11:37, Revelation 13:10, Deuteronomy 13:15 from the Septuagint, and Deuteronomy 20:13 also from the Septuagint. Of course, it is also used in Romans 13:4 for Paul saying that the government has the right to carry out capital punishment.

    Machaira, or sword, as used in Luke 22:35-38, was a weapon used for killing. Here, Jesus asks his disciples to carry it for use in self-defense.

  • Vantastic

    Wow, There is a lot to comment on here. First of all, there is no need for a Christian to defend owning guns no more than anyone needs to defend owning boats, motorcycles, swimming pools and household cleaners (all of which when misused are factors in causing death). Second, focusing on gun love from an idolatry standpoint is pretty narrow focused, anything that displaces God is an idol and focusing only on guns is misguided. Yes, people love their guns and will gladly talk about them and shut up when there is an opportunity to talk about Christ, there are plenty of other idols out there that fit in the first slot too and only God can change someones heart to worship Him not Congress.
    Thirdly, you are seizing on a heightened awareness of guns due to the high profile exposure of the stories to further your points about gun idolatry. Statistically speaking actual violent crime has been on the decline for the past 30 years. Murder especially had declined to the levels seen in the late 60′s /early 70′s.

  • Vantastic

    Straw man quote #1. When an owner [of a gun] believes there are no circumstances when a regulation or restriction for public safety should be placed upon it [the gun/the owner].
    Really?, there are NO circumstances for regulation?
    Straw man #2. When an owner believes that guns don’t kill; they only save lives.
    Do you know any gun owner that believes that the use of guns ONLY saves lives?

    3. When an owner has no doubt that guns preserve America’s most cherished values.
    So what if a gun owner thinks that? None of this proves idolatry. How about thinking about idolatry this way, what do consumes your thoughts the most? What displaces your relationship with God? Would you rather talk about guns, sports, cars, money instead of Christ with your unsaved friends? Skip the straw man nonsense.

  • Dave

    Eric #27: Thanks again for your response. That is an interesting take on “do unto others” that I had not considered before. Much to think on!

    And, no worries, I didn’t read anything belittling or otherwise negative in your comments.

  • Greg D

    Thinker #40: Good points indeed. But, you bring up a paradox in your own statements. Jesus rebukes Peter for “defending” Him with a sword in the Garden of Gethsemane. And, yet you claim Jesus commands His disciples to buy and carry a sword for their defense? This seems a bit of a stretch and a contradiction. Which one is it? Are we to wield the sword in our defense, or put the sword away as Jesus commanded Peter to do?

    Based off Jesus’ earlier rules to love our enemies, turn the other cheek, and to not repay evil with evil, etc. I would guess the latter.

  • http://www.thinkershandbook.com Thinker’s Handbook

    Greg,

    1. We need to interpret Scripture in light of Scripture. Since we know Jesus called for his disciples to carry weapons, and here Jesus does not tell Peter to get rid of the sword but to put it back in its place, Jesus must be ok with his disciples carrying swords, swords used for self-defense. Therefore Jesus could not have been saying it is wrong to defend oneself. So what was he saying?

    2. Jesus simply did not want Peter to attempt to stop the authorities who were arresting him and would take him to his death, which he knew must happen. If Peter resisted here, causing a fight, a civil uprising would occur and perhaps Peter or others would be killed. Certainly this was not the best time for that.

    3. Since Jesus called for and thought it was good for Peter to be carrying a sword, even here, his saying that “all who take the sword will perish by the sword” interpreted in light of Scripture must not mean one cannot defend oneself with weapons. Instead, I believe it means that those who use the sword (or weapons or fighting in general) to advance the kingdom of God will not succeed. This is what Peter was trying to do here as well.

    4. If Jesus’ followers were to use their weapons to advance what they thought at that time was the kingdom of God, they would likely die. Nor should we spread the gospel today through violence. However, self-defense is good and wise, including the use of guns.

    Now, to address your last three points.

    5. Jesus said we should love our enemies. How does that relate to self-defense? Since when does loving our enemies mean we cannot defend ourselves, our families, or the innocent? Acting in love towards both the attacker and the victim includes trying to stop the act before it begins or before harm is done.

    6. I would go further and say that one can love our enemies AND kill them in battle or put them to death. Leviticus 19:18 says to love our neighbors and just a few verses later God called for the death penalty. I do not think that loving our enemies and neighbors has anything to do with self-defense, or even just offense such as war and capital punishment.

    6. “Turn the other cheek.” How does one get slapped on the right cheek, by a predominantly right-handed society? By the back of the hand. That is seen as an insult. What Jesus is saying is that we should not personally take vengeance just to get even.

    7. The Greek term rhapizo, or slap, is a slap given in insult. We should not hit back when insulted. This verse has nothing to do with self-defense or fending off a violent attack.

    8. From my post #38, we see that it was right to try and avoid harm. In none of the examples I gave did anyone “turn the cheek.”

    9. Further, just a few verses later Jesus says to give to those who ask. Is that an absolute command? If it was, then our churches should all be bankrupt. No, this verse, like the “turn the cheek” are examples of what a life following Christ should look like.

    10. Lastly, 1 Peter says not to repay evil with evil. If my arguments for self-defense are correct, and I believe they are quite tight, then self-defense is not evil.

    11. It says not to “repay.” This means an action that follows something previously done. This would be something like vengeance. Self-defense is an action done at the time of the event. This verse by its very language cannot be speaking of self-defense.

  • Greg D

    Thinker,

    Again, using your logic… if the disciples were to take a sword to defend themselves, why then didn’t Stephen take up the sword against his attackers in Acts 6? Furthermore, when Paul was overtaken by a mob never did He brandish a sword to protect himself in Acts 17.

    To further expound upon Jesus’ rebuke of Peter, He indeed told him to put away the sword and added, “Those who use the sword will die by the sword.” There were no disclaimers. No buts. No addendums. Jesus was very clear: The sword is not to be used to kill… or defend… period.

    This point is hammered home more clearly in Revelation in regards to future persecution of the saints: “If anyone is to go into captivity, into captivity he will go. If anyone is to be killed with the sword, with the sword he will be killed. This calls for patient endurance and faithfulness on the part of the saints.” (Revelation 13:10)

    There is no biblical evidence of any disciple of Christ ever brandishing a sword to protect or defend themselves. Extra-biblical evidence supports the fact that the early Christians were pacifist and never fought back or defended themselves against persecution that swept the land.

  • http://www.thinkershandbook.com Thinker’s Handbook

    Greg,

    I want to thank you for the discussion. I am not sure further discourse will be fruitful. I know I’m not going to change your mind. I leave it to the readers to decide. I likely will finish the discussion with this post, a recap and brief response.

    I believe gun-ownership should be allowed and encouraged. This is because:

    1. Self-defense is biblical. Today’s guns take the place of biblical swords.
    1.A. Christians have a right to avoid harm. We see this in many places, such as the verses cited above.
    1.B. In Luke 22, Jesus encourages his disciples to carry swords. As explained above, these swords are the instruments used in battle, used in capital punishment, used in self-defense, and used to kill.
    1.C. We see that Jesus’ followers did carry swords, Peter being one.
    1.D. From B. and C. we can make a positive case that Jesus was OK with his followers carrying instruments of self-defense.
    2. Guns save lives much more than they take them.
    2.A. One study/example of many is a comparison of FBI crime statistics of all 3054 US counties. The ones which allowed concealed weapons had a murder rate on average 8.5% less than other counties.
    3. Guns reduce crime, including gun crime.
    3.A. The same study cited above found rape rate 5% less and severe assault 7% less in counties which allowed concealed weapons. Another study found that guns stopped 2.1 million crimes each year.
    4. Allowing gun ownership fulfills the meaning of the Second Amendment.
    5. Gun ownership fulfills the basic right to self-defense.
    6. Guns are a protection against tyranny.

    Briefly, a response to a few objections.
    1. Was Jesus a pacifist?
    - Jesus, being God, certainly was not. God calls for war and capital punishment.
    2. Jesus said that those who live by the sword die by the sword.
    - We know Jesus asked his disciples to carry weapons. Why would they carry them if Jesus believed they should never be used? Therefore, this verse cannot be against self-defense. As explained above, in the immediate sense, Jesus did not want to start a civil uprising. In the deeper sense, we should not spread the gospel through violence.
    3. Jesus says to turn the other cheek.
    - This is talking about returning insult with insult. See above.
    4. We are to love our enemies.
    - Pacifism does not follow from loving enemies. In Leviticus mere verses apart, God says to love them and calls for capital punishment. Loving and killing are not mutually exclusive. Sometimes to love the enemy means to stop the criminal in the act, perhaps through violent actions. (As a side, I believe the US military to be the most successful pacifists in the world, and the must successful at showing love to our neighbors.)
    5. We should not repay evil with evil.
    - Self-defense is not an evil. Also, repay means a later action. Self-defense happens at the same time.
    6. Why didn’t others like Stephen and Paul defend themselves?
    - You cannot prove anything from missing material. It’s an argument from silence. What positive knowledge do we know? Jesus’ called for his disciples to carry weapons used for self-defense.
    7. Jesus meant that the sword should not be used to kill, defend, period.
    - Yet Jesus (God) called for war and instituted capital punishment. Jesus told his disciples to carry sword for self-defense. Jesus comes in Revelation brandishing a sword.
    8. Revelation says that if anyone is to be killed with the sword, by the sword will he be killed.
    - This is apocalyptic writing, from which one should never justify doctrines. This is also a rewording of Genesis 9:6, from where we get the justification of capital punishment, certainly not a defense of pacifism. Besides, Jesus comes in the end times brandishing a sword. Is that immoral?
    9. We never see Jesus immediate followers nor the early church use a sword. They were pacifists.
    - We do see Jesus disciples carrying swords. One cannot create doctrine from the early church. They may have been wrong in this area. What we do know is the biblical arguments made above and previously. This also happens to be an argument from silence. Finally, there is much ongoing debate as to how much the early church believed in pacifism and practiced it and the reasons why.

    I would go further. I believe pacifism to be immoral. And I believe the desire to remove guns is so foolish as to also be immoral.

    Thanks for the give and take. I hope some will take the time to read the discussion. If I leave it here, God bless. I know you only desire what is right.

  • Greg D

    Thinker,

    In short response, I see you don’t make a distinction between the old covenants and the new covenant of Jesus. You cite Old Testament passages to justify your modern day ethics while dispensing of or distorting the new covenant teachings of Christ and the apostolic teachings of Paul. Furthermore, you can’t totally dismiss Revelation altogether simply because it doesn’t fit your ethics and then cite Genesis as your basis for capital punishment. This is simply cherry-picking and proof-texting Scripture.

    Nice discussion and I agree for the sake of unity we should end the discussion here.

    Peace.


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