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The Gun Control Debate’s Place in the Church

In a recent discussion on the issue of, Gun Control and the 2nd Amendment, I asked a question. I asked “Why is the Church speaking on this issue?” The question isn’t about the effectiveness of gun control, if you should be allowed to have concealed carry, gun violence, etc. I question if it is the place of the Church to speak on the issue. When I see ministers, para-church ministries, and Christians speak on these issues as if the Church or Scripture has spoken on the issue, it is clear to me that they are outside the mandate given by Christ and therefore it makes me question the what is happening.

The question I ask in the debate on guns and the 2nd amendment (“Is this something for the Church to speak on?”) stands. In response, I was given a batch of passages in Scripture that (I assume) would be a basis for why the voice of the church should be involved in the gun debate. The gun apologist, who is an Advocate for the Church on Guns (ACG here on), basically carpet bombed me with bible passages. It’s a tactic that Greg Koukl has labelled as “Carpet Bombing” because they throw so many Bible verses/passages at you that it’s almost impossible to deal with all of them in any meaningful way. The response to people who carpet bomb is usually throwing our hands up and saying, “no thanks”. I can definitely sympathize with that response. On one hand, I don’t want to ignore a point someone is trying to make with Scripture but carpet bombing is not an exegetical argument. Therefore I also simply can’t afford to invest days into this while carrying out other (more pressing) pastoral duties. Some passages are easier to look at than others. Some are a few verses and some a few chapters. I have thoughts about that as well and hopefully I’ll get a chance to explain as I talk about the respective passages. Here is the message I was sent:

Many people in our culture are attempting to hinder our ability to defend ourselves and our neighbor by removing the most effective tool we have (1 Samuel 13:19-22). Therefore it is fitting that the church should confront the culture on this issue rather than remain silent.

As a minister, you have a moral obligation to teach and proclaim the full counsel of God. I would encourage you to consider the following passages:

  1. Psalm 82:4
  2. Ezekiel 33
  3. Genesis 9:5-6
  4. Leviticus 24:16-17
  5. Exodus 22:2-3
  6. Nehemiah 4
  7. Esther 8 and 9
  8. Luke 22:35-39

I admit from the beginning I was impressed with the various verses that were given to me. I was curious on the source of these passages of Scripture. Was this person so motivated by their own study that they just had these verses from Scripture at the ready? I don’t want to assign false motives but I just copied and pasted the verses into Google and was led to this page (http://www.biblicalselfdefense.com). Is that plagiarism? I’m not sure, but it looks like they weren’t giving credit to their source (who did all the homework) when perhaps they should have. Nonetheless, here is my humble effort to interact with the passages given to me.

1. Ps 82:4

Psa. 82:1    God has taken his place in the divine council;

in the midst of the gods he holds judgment:

2 “How long will you judge unjustly

and show partiality to the wicked? Selah

3  Give justice to the weak and the fatherless;

maintain the right of the afflicted and the destitute.

4  Rescue the weak and the needy;

deliver them from the hand of the wicked.”

This is a text speaking to the justice of God. It is God who sits enthroned in heaven and holds the ultimate judgment in his hands. The psalm addresses the weakness and corruption of the government. They have failed to rule justly and to protect those who are weak.

The government has a responsibility to protect all the citizens. This is never debated. Is this speaking to the 2nd Amendment issue? No. Is saying that individuals should arm themselves to take the lives of others who break the law? No. Is this saying the Church has an obligation to speak to others about personal defense? No.

2. Ezekiel 33 – This chapter has 33 verses in it so I won’t copy and paste it for the sake of space. It is kind of silly the ACG to throw a large chapter into the discussion without an exegetical argument behind it other than “Consider this”. Statements like that make me question if they read this chapter themselves, understood the context of the book, or the bigger issue at hand.

The beginning of the text starts by speaking of the duties of a watchman and those duties of the people he warns. If an invader is coming and you die because you didn’t listen to him it’s your fault. If an invader is coming and you die because the watchman didn’t warn you, it’s his fault. In the immediate context Ezekiel is the watchman. The true watchman over Israel is Christ and he warns Israel of the incoming danger of disobedience.

The warning against the wicked are pronounced and God states he desires repentance not the death of the wicked (v11). If the wicked restores what he has stolen and lives justly he will not die. The death in view here is the eternal death not just a life and death on earth. (v20)

The last part of the chapter (vv 21-33) deal with judgment on Jerusalem by God. They are judged for their wickedness and the list of sins are given in vs 26.

Ezek. 33:26 You rely on the sword, you commit abominations, and each of you defiles his neighbor’s wife; shall you then possess the land?

“You rely on the sword” I would argue this speaks against gun advocates. Are they relying on the sword? I can’t judge their hearts but in the discussion they sure become protective over their guns. Have their guns become their idols? Dunno. The passage continues with God’s judgment over Jerusalem and in the end they know he is “the LORD” in his judgment on them for their sin.

Ezekiel is therefore called to tell them what the LORD has said. But he is told they will not respond in faith. Their hearts are full of selfish gain and lust. (v31).

I’m not certain what the ACG is trying to establish with this text. But this passage has nothing to do with personal lethal protection. It has nothing for the Church calling her people to arms either.

3. Genesis 9:5-6

Gen. 9:5 And for your lifeblood I will require a reckoning:  from every beast I will require it and  from man. From his fellow man I will require a reckoning for the life of man.

Gen. 9:6    “Whoever sheds the blood of man,

by man shall his blood be shed,

for God made man in his own image.

In this covenant (Gen 8:20-9:17) God promises to sustain the world after the flood. He institutes the idea of civil justice and commands humans to be fruitful and multiply. He promises to preserve the world and it will be for all creation. When God makes this covenant he is not making this task (shedding blood, being fruitful & multiplying) just for the believer or the church. It is for both believers and unbelievers.

This covenant belongs to a domain that is secular and not the church. Who is responsible for executing this justice? Not individuals but the government are given that duty of preserving society and suppressing injustice. The Church isn’t responsible to shed blood of those who kill man, the government is. At a basic level God has ordained civil society to be for people. Consider that Paul tells us in Romans 13:1 to obey the government because they have been put in place by God. Who is the government in that Paul has in view? A pagan Roman government who didn’t honor God. He is telling them to seek peace with the government and pay their taxes (13:7). This is not a basis for the Church to take a position on the 2nd Amendment or to tell their people to take a position on the debate.

4. Leviticus 24:16-17

Lev. 24:16 Whoever blasphemes the name of the LORD shall surely be put to death. All the congregation shall stone him. The sojourner as well as the native, when he blasphemes the Name, shall be put to death.

Lev. 24:17    “Whoever takes a human life shall surely be put to death.

This speaks for the death penalty post-crime. It isn’t preventative in the nature that the 2nd Amendment is. The ACG argues the Church needs to speak on guns as a matter of love of neighbor and for the prevention of crime. This verse speaks to consequence and punishment for a crime that has already taken place. It is not speaking of how to prevent the crime. It simply says people may die for the unlawful killing of another human.

The nation of Israel executes the death penalty, in this theocratic context more specifically it is, it is the government (congregation) that executes the death penalty and not an individual.

5. Exodus 22:2-3

Exod 22:2 If a thief is found breaking in and is struck so that he dies, there shall be no bloodguilt for him,

Exod 22:3 but if the sun has risen on him, there shall be bloodguilt for him. He shall surely pay. If he has nothing, then he shall be sold for his theft.

This passage in the “Gun Debate” is interesting and could be compelling if it was saying, “When someone breaks in your house, you can kill him without consequence” but it isn’t. This passage is saying, “You may, in certain situations, kill a robber who breaks in. If you kill a thief in the night then there is no ‘bloodguilt’. That means, there is no consequence on the man who killed   the thief. However, if you are being robbed in the daylight, you will be liable if you kill him.”

Thus in a certain sense you may defend your property if your house is broken into during the night but during the day it is reasonable that you should not kill the robber. Most likely because the rest of the people are awake and you can ask for help in stopping the crime. God sees the preservation of life more important than the preservation of property. So the thief will have to take care of paying back the property stolen. This does speak to an action of an individual but their actions are limited. Many gun proponents would not like the restraint of only being able to kill thieves during the night. This passage can be used to support that you are reasonably justified in protecting your property (at night) from a thief. And if, in that process, you kill him by striking him, that is justified homicide. It should not be used as support for lethal force every time b/c that would be beyond the scope of the text and the intent of the pericope (restitution).

6. Nehemiah 4

Another text that is too large to copy and paste (23 verses). In this chapter the Jews are rebuilding and repairing the walls of Jerusalem. Initially they are mocked for their workmanship (vv1-6) and their pagan neighbors plan to attack them. In response they set up a guard for protection against them (v9, 13). The call to fight is those who are stationed to guard the nation. In a sense, they are trusting the government for their protection. Even though these men who make up the combat force are citizens of the Jewish nation. The defense was from attack of the neighboring nations.

7. Esther 8 and 9

Esther is written to document the origins of the Jewish observance of Purim.

Esth 9:26 Therefore they called these days Purim, after the term Pur. Therefore, because of all that was written in this letter, and of what they had faced in this matter, and of what had happened to them,

In these two chapters the enemy of the Jews (Haman) has just been killed and now Mordecai the Jew is set over the house of Haman. The king authorizes Mordecai to write “as he pleases” in regards to the Jews, and it will be as if it was from the king. Mordecai seizes the opportunity to take vengeance on the enemies of the Jews. Mordecai takes the opportunity and writes

Esth. 8:11 saying that the king allowed the Jews who were in every city to gather and defend their lives, to destroy, to kill, and to annihilate any armed force of any people or province that might attack them, children and women included, and to plunder their goods,

The Jews are now given the freedom to kill those who would attack them and/or their family. And they could go beyond killing the attackers and have access to their property. The response is joy among the Jews and even some conversion out of fear from the pagans (8:17). Chapter 9 tells of the fighting the Jews engage in and 9:1 says the Jews prevailed. The reputation of Mordecai grows and now even government officials are fighting for the Jews out of fear of Mordecai. The slaughter by the Jews grows through the land. The dead number over 75,000.

The rest from fighting was finally on the 13-14 of the month of Adar. Mordecai sends notice to all provinces to keep Adar the 14th and 15th every year as a memorial. They are to remember the time they had found relief from their enemies. It was self-imposed by the Jews to themselves and to their offspring

Without knowing what point the ACG is trying to bring from this passage I’m left on my own here. I think the ACG is trying to argue this “Esther 8-9 shows that the Jews were eventually given freedom to kill all those who attacked them and their families during the exile and we have that same freedom.”

I think they ACG is missing a key interpretive piece here. The Jews didn’t have the freedom to defend their families till King Ahasuerus said so. They weren’t allowed to go out killing 75,000 till the king approved the decree. Does this mean the Church should start speaking out on the gun control debate? No. Is this text to support the notion that the Church should support the 2nd Amendment or the repeal of it? No.

8. Luke 22:35-39

Luke 22:35   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.”

39 And he came out and went, as was his custom, to the Mount of Olives, and the disciples followed him.

Here Jesus has just instituted the Supper (22:14-23), reminded them what it means to be greatest in the kingdom, and prophesied Peter’s denial. It is a time Jesus is focussing on his time to be turned over for crucifixion. Jesus tells them a new time is coming. In prior times he sent them with no provisions and they were taken care of by God’s provision. Now he says they are going to enter trials and they need to be ready for everything the Scriptures had spoken of is about to be fulfilled in Jesus. I think v39 was mistakenly cited by them because it is clearly a new thought. But that’s probably more likely due to not checking sources than a typo.

Without knowing what point the ACG is making from this passage I think they are allegorizing it. Perhaps they see in this a time of Christians carrying weapons while proclaiming the Gospel? If this is their point, Calvin speaks to this erroneous view

v35 – The whole object of this discourse of Christ is to show, that hitherto he spared his disciples, so as to lay on them no heavier burden than they were able to bear.… For why did he, while they were altogether destitute of skill and training, keep them in the shade and in repose, at a distance from the darts of the enemy, except that, by gradually gathering courage and strength during the interval of leisure, they might be better prepared for fighting? The meaning is: “Hitherto you have had an easy and prosperous condition, because I wished to treat you gently, like children; the full time is now come, when I must employ you in labor, like men.” And although Christ makes special mention of what he had done in reference to the twelve apostles, he shows likewise, that while we are still beginners and weak in faith, he continues to indulge us till we grow up to be men; and, therefore, that they act improperly who devote their leisure to the pursuit of luxuries, which abate the rigor of their faith. And let us not doubt that Christ has regard to us in the present day, since he does not hurry us into the battle while we are still untrained and inexperienced, but, before sending us to the field, supplies us with arms and courage.

v36 – In metaphorical language he threatens that they will soon meet with great troubles and fierce attacks… And yet he does not call them to an outward conflict, but only, under the comparison of fighting, he warns them of the severe struggles of temptations which they must undergo, and of the fierce attacks which they must sustain in spiritual contests. That they might more willingly throw themselves on the providence of God, he first reminded them, as I have said, that God took care to supply them with what was necessary, even when they carried with them no supplies of food and raiment. Having experienced so large and seasonable supplies from God, they ought not, for the future, to entertain any doubt that he would provide for every one of their necessities. –

v38- It was truly shameful and stupid ignorance, that the disciples, after having been so often informed about bearing the cross, imagine that they must fight with swords of iron. When they say that they have two swords, it is uncertain whether they mean that they are well prepared against their enemies, or complain that they are ill provided with arms. It is evident, at least, that they were so stupid as not to think of a spiritual enemy. As to the inference which the Doctors of Canon Law draw from these words—that their mitered bishops have a double jurisdiction—it is not only an offensive allegory, but a detestable mockery, by which they ridicule the word of God. And it was necessary that the slaves of Antichrist should fall into such madness, of openly trampling under feet, by sacrilegious contempt, the sacred oracles of God. Calvin – Commentary

Calvin is saying these ACGs would have bishops charging in the battle field and end up mocking God’s word. It’s tempting to add more but honestly who can top a tongue lashing by Calvin?

The bottom line: My question still stands “Is the gun debate something for the Church to speak on?” I don’t see a biblical grounding for it. Just to be clear, I’m not saying I want to increase access to guns. I’m not saying I want to abolish the 2nd Amendment. I’m saying this discussion does not belong in the pulpit of the Church but in the secular sphere of the citizens. I know there will be those who disagree. Some will say this is a moral issue therefore the Church should speak on this. But they have confused what they interpret to be loving with what Christ has told the church to do.

I am more conservative on what I will speak on from the pulpit. We should be careful to take our responsibility as ministers seriously and not simply use the pulpit to speak on issues that excite our hearts. We must also keep in mind that we cannot bind the conscience of the people beyond what Scripture dictates. If we speak out against guns or for guns from the pulpit and members of the church do/think differently would we impose church discipline? No (should be the answer) then why would we proclaim it from the pulpit as if it were from the Lord. We proclaim Christ crucified.


1 Comment

  1. kat says:

    Great question and through evaluation. What comes to mind is “context, context, context” regarding scripture. I wonder if they even read the scriptures given as “proof”. Yes, I myself am ambivalent regarding gun issue. I see the problem mainly with the shooter (sin!) versus the gun itself. But I do wonder how someone can get the kind of weapons used and the amount of ammo legitimately. It seems like overkill. Then again there are those who do get guns unlawfully, so laws that are there to protect, don’t. Variable and complex situation. Thanks for taking the time to explain the role of the church.

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