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The Biblical Duty of Self-Defense

When I was young, I lived in the suburbs of New Orleans. Even though our neighborhood was pretty quiet, I always knew that I had to lock the doors and not talk to strangers because New Orleans was a city with a lot of crime.

  • Judd Wilson,
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When I was young, I lived in the suburbs of New Orleans. Even though our neighborhood was pretty quiet, I always knew that I had to lock the doors and not talk to strangers because New Orleans was a city with a lot of crime.

One night, my family woke to the sound of screaming. When we ran to see what was happening, we found a young woman banging on the sliding glass door of our living room, begging for help. We called the police and waited for them to come. It must have been an hour before they came—an hour in which my family, fearing for our own safety, did not know what to do. I remember the confusion that such a crisis created in my loving and good—but unprepared—elders. They were concerned that it was a trick and that somebody might hurt us if we opened the door to this girl. All that stood between us and any possible danger was my sixty- year-old grandfather, wielding a kitchen knife.

Not knowing what to do and not having a sure means of protecting ourselves caused us to hesitate to help her. We later found out that the woman had been raped and dumped by her assailant behind our house. Although we eventually opened the door to her, our actions must have exacerbated her shock and fear. It left a profound impression on my memory that this world is a dangerous place and that we must be prepared to treat it as such.

Now 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.

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.

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, 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.”

Where is the teaching on this from the pulpits? Where are the Christian organizations that can provide training for such occasions? I fear that we have blindly accepted the unmanly and unbiblical notion that we ought to look to somebody else to defend us, whether it be our rights, our dignity, or our lives.

We Reformed men, and Reformed Christians generally, ought to take a closer look at what the Bible teaches about individual self-defense, as well as our obligation to defend our civil liberties. We should not be afraid to delve into this, one of the most important of subjects. Our fallen world is a hard and cruel place, save for the grace of God. The Bible demands that we be able to deal with it.

  • Judd Wilson

Judd Wilson is a former military officer stationed in Japan, a former newspaper supervisor, a husband, and a father of two.

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