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Magazine Article

Self-Defense from a Biblical Perspective

The only time I have had a black eye was in 1991 during my second-degree brown belt promotion test in Kenpo Karate. These rights of passage included a vigorous two-plus-hour ordeal where the candidate for advancement had to demonstrate proficiency in the various moves from previous belt levels. Additionally, one also had to withstand simulated attacks from the men who were black belts who ran the test. My “shiner” resulted when I did not deflect an incoming punch in a timely manner.

Andrea G. Schwartz
  • Andrea G. Schwartz,
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The only time I have had a black eye was in 1991 during my second-degree brown belt promotion test in Kenpo Karate. These rights of passage included a vigorous two-plus-hour ordeal where the candidate for advancement had to demonstrate proficiency in the various moves from previous belt levels. Additionally, one also had to withstand simulated attacks from the men who were black belts who ran the test. My “shiner” resulted when I did not deflect an incoming punch in a timely manner.

By this time, I had been studying martial arts for six years, yet this was my first experience with a full punch to the face. That was a remarkable record considering I was thirty-seven years old at the time. You see, girls do not customarily fistfight when they are at odds with each other; rather, they give way to pulling hair and kicking. Surprisingly, the blow to my face was not as bad as I had imagined one would be. With the adrenalin rush, I was able to successfully complete the process and pass the test!

I attribute this accomplishment, in part, to my hard work and physical conditioning, but also because of the reason I pursued proficiency in self-defense in the first place. As a Christian, I knew there were priorities set forth in Scripture that required that I prepare myself to maneuver through a sinful world.

Since then, I have combined my knowledge of God’s Word with the techniques and perspectives I gained through martial arts to present seminars to women highlighting self-defense from a Christian/Biblical perspective. I begin these seminars by pointing out that three of the Ten Commandments (the sixth, seventh, and eighth) are pertinent to this discussion.

The Morality of Self-Defense

Since it is wrong to kill, failing to defend our life or the life of another violates the sixth commandment. Since adultery (and all fornication) is prohibited, women must value their marriage (or future one) enough to protect themselves in keeping with the seventh commandment. In addition, theft of any kind (including one’s virginity, chastity, and purity) appropriately deserves opposition based on the eighth commandment.

This flies in the face of many recommendations given to women either explicitly or implicitly by our modern culture. Too often, women are instructed to cooperate with an assailant to avoid being killed. This avoids the fact that God’s penalty for rape and kidnapping is the same as for murder—death. Therefore, it is faulty reasoning to assume that preserving one’s life is the utmost priority. Because women are vulnerable to physical and sexual attacks due to the disparity between the strength and size of men and women, it is important for women to follow the dictates of God’s Word in Proverbs 31:17, “She girds herself with strength, And strengthens her arms.” The Bible does not call for flimsy, weak women. Strength of character and physical strength are both to be pursued. By standing firmly on a Biblical worldview, a woman can prepare herself to be ready to respond in the case of threatening situations.

Unlike the modern recommendation to cooperate with an assailant, the Bible requires that a woman cry out in the case of a sexual assault. In fact, she should do so in order to dismiss any doubt that she is a willing participant. The only time this is not required is when the assault is taking place in a location where she cannot be heard. This does not preclude her crying out; rather, it makes allowance for the fact that her cries would not be effective (Deuteronomy 22:25–28).

Judd Wilson, a military veteran, addresses this passage in his essay, “The Biblical Duty of Self-Defense”:

I have a wife and a tiny, infant daughter. Those women are the most important people on this planet to me. Like other Christian men, I have been commanded by God to love my wife as Christ loves His church and to raise my daughter in the fear and admonition of the Lord. But in the face of a palpable silence in the evangelical world regarding this subject, I pose a question. Do I not have the duty to protect them from physical harm?
The Bible says, “Thou shalt not tempt the Lord thy God” (Matt. 4:7). Citing this verse, the Lord refused Satan’s call to recklessly jump off the temple, and in so doing to deny Biblical common sense in favor of supernatural deliverance. If I send my wife and daughter to the grocery store, the grandparents’ house, or anywhere else, unprepared to deal with this world full of scheming, depraved sinners, have I not broken this commandment?
I’m not saying that we should discount God’s protection and blessing or the customary decency of many citizens; but if I neglected to check the oil, the gas, and the tires before setting out on a road trip, would I not be to blame if we ended up stranded on the side of a road somewhere? I must conclude then that I have a duty to prepare my girls to defend themselves and that I must be able to defend myself as well.1

Some may argue that Deuteronomy 22:25–28 is antiquated and does not reflect modern life. They submit that there are circumstances whereby a woman is tricked or manipulated into compromising situations by a person who is powerful and who may discredit her account. This is why the other admonitions in Scripture regarding modesty, prudence, integrity, and remaining under the care and protection of family are so important. Instead of making this an issue of women’s rights and the double standard that exists in humanistic culture, the Bible calls for women to cherish their bodies as temples of the Holy Spirit and protect their sexuality in a pre-emptive way. As the saying goes, “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.”

Today it is standard practice to move outside the protection and covering of one’s family and blithely assume that bad things should not happen to good people. Coupled with the low priority often given to modesty and godliness, females leave the door open to be disbelieved and challenged when there is a charge of rape or abuse. Regardless of whether or not it should be this way, the credibility of a woman who fornicates when she chooses to do so, and then expects allegations of rape to be believed unquestionably, will be called into question.  Proverbs 20:11 tells us, “Even a child makes himself known by his acts, by whether his conduct is pure and upright.” In a like manner, the character of a godly woman should be so well known, that her words are taken seriously and her testimony believed.2

Many passages in the Bible advise that avoiding certain behaviors is a protection against the wickedness that exists in the world. What often seems like prudery or overprotectiveness to the young person who wants to experience excitement in life is in actuality God’s safeguard. This does not mean that women should not pursue education, employment, or activities outside the home. Rather, it is a prescription for doing all these things under the protection and covering of her family. Only the fool has to learn everything by personal experience. Therefore, adhering to the guidelines of the Creator is more than commendable; it is vital.

Once this perspective is embraced, the process of learning how to defend oneself is the next priority. Good physical conditioning gives opportunity to escape from a perpetrator and/or dangerous environment should the situation arise. Often this is all that is needed. Being weak and lethargic due to excessive weight or muscular weakness makes a woman more likely to be taken advantage of. Being physically fit is not anathema to femininity. When a woman is in better physical health and carries herself with godly deportment, she makes herself a less vulnerable target.

Good instruction as to how to defend oneself is available all over the internet, and various videos and articles abound about effective means to ward off an attacker. While it is good to get some hands-on training, there is much to be learned by educating yourself online. This is also an effective way for parents to train both daughters and sons to be able to be pro-active in this area.3

Problems under the Radar

Along with learning that being punched in the face was not as bad as I had anticipated, I also learned how uncomfortable people were even to broach the subject with me when they saw me at church or at homeschool gatherings. In fact, their discomfort was palpable and almost funny. No one wanted to ask the obvious question, “What happened to you?” I must admit that I relished seeing how proficient they were at avoiding the “elephant in the room.” Since I was not ashamed of my “shiner,” I did not attempt to conceal it with makeup. The only people who would confront me head-on were children who would ask unapologetically, “What happened to your eye?”

This brings me to the unpleasant subject of sexual or physical misconduct/abuse on the part of one spouse to another, or a parent to a child. One does not have to look very far to learn of the tragic stories of people who endured years of being taken advantage of by someone they trusted. The question arises: Why did these occurrences remain secret? What social norms existed within the circles that gave precedence to exchanging niceties over unearthing real problems within their midst? Why aren’t these subjects broached from the pulpit?

Judd Wilson goes on to note:

We read about this duty of self-defense in Deuteronomy 22:23–27, which teaches us that when threatened with rape, a woman has the obligation to resist her attacker by screaming for help. The principle implicit here is that this crime is something to be resisted, not acquiesced to. Verses 23–24 mention the case of a woman who is attacked while in a town. It specifies that if she does not scream for help, she is to be stoned to death along with the rapist. Why? Because she is obliged to resist. [Emphasis mine.]
This is not the law of some cruel and unjust God; it is the law of a God who sharply differentiates between good and evil. As Matthew Henry writes on these verses, the assumption here is that in a town or other populated area, when a woman cried out for help, rescuers “might speedily have come in to prevent the injury offered her.” In the case of a sexual assault, that help must be immediate. We can conclude, then, that Israelite city dwellers were not to be couch potatoes, but instead vigilant, manly individuals capable of physically overcoming a criminal or a group of criminals.
Verses 25–27 specify that in the case of a woman raped in the countryside, where there is no one to hear her cry for help, only the rapist must die, for “as when a man riseth against his neighbour, and slayeth him, even so is this matter: For he found her in the field, and the betrothed damsel cried, and there was none to save her.” Again, the woman is obligated to resist, [Emphasis mine] and her fellow Israelites are obligated to rescue her. We also see that the Israelites were expected to know how to help her. Clearly a girl today, just as then, is better off knowing how to defend herself if she is caught alone with “no one to rescue her.”4

One of the safeguards of the Bible’s directive for a woman to cry out is that it puts the offender on notice. Too many, unaware of this aspect of the law-word of God, tragically felt they had to endure vile treatment from a family member or trusted friend, feeling personal shame and guilt. This is why learning Biblical law is a priority: it serves as a protection and shield. Such knowledgeable application may not prevent a first offense, but certainly would avert repeated ones. Thus, the command for a woman to cry out and pursue justice goes beyond the occurrence of the actual attack. It means a speedy reporting to those who can help her, rather than concealing the offense for years. Moreover, as Judd Wilson points out, the congregation was expected to know how to help her.

Regardless of the “good reasons” to avoid letting someone know that a violation has taken place (threats of retaliation or accusations of lying), knowing that one is acting in obedience to God’s law provides strength. Also knowing that there are people ready, willing, and able to help encourages openness. When we are told to seek first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness, it is important to note that the words “righteousness” and “justice” are synonymous. We have a duty to see that justice is served, but it cannot be a solo effort. An aspect of God’s establishing the institutions of both church and state was and is to serve as protection for the family in its Kingdom work. Pride, scarred reputations, or potentially bad press are not sufficient excuses to sacrifice justice.

Too many church people embrace a culture of superficiality, priding themselves in minding their own business to avoid being labelled busybodies. This flies in the face of the passage in Galatians that instructs us to bear one another’s burdens as the fulfillment of the law of Christ (Gal. 6:2). The body of Christ must do more than decry the bad behavior of the heathen; we must deal with the wolves that maintain free access within churches with members who value politeness over community.

The entire subject of self-defense opens the door to discussion about important and pertinent issues of our day. Rather than merely shielding ourselves and our children from the sinful, humanistic culture surrounding us, and its infiltration into our churches, we should be establishing a firm Biblical foundation of a godly, dominion-oriented response to these issues. Prioritizing the clear commands and boundaries of Scripture, and carrying them out, will do much to avoid unnecessary suffering.

The prudent sees danger and hides himself, but the simple go on and suffer for it. (Prov. 22:3)


2. Teaching and applying the Biblical teaching that perjurers (those who give false testimony) are subject to whatever punishments that would be levied against those they accuse, would lessen false accusations.

3. There are also many classes available throughout most communities. Be sure to check that your instructors are competent and certified in the techniques they teach.

4. See Endnote 1.