Self-defense actions may only be exercised in extreme situations. In all other cases where there is an opportunity to reason with and win over the other person through selfsacrifice, this is commanded. What principle regarding this truth did Jesus teach in His Sermon on the Mount?
Legitimate - Lawful; according to the law
Centurions - Roman military officers placed over one hundred soldiers
And the soldiers likewise demanded of him, saying, And what shall we do? And he said unto them, Do violence to no man, neither accuse any falsely; and be content with your wages.
- Luke 3:14
There was a certain man in Caesarea called Cornelius, a centurion of the band called the Italian band,
A devout man, and one that feared God with all his house, which gave much alms to the people, and prayed to God alway.
- Acts 10:1-2
Then said David to the Philistine, Thou comest to me with a sword, and with a spear, and with a shield: but I come to thee in the Name of the LORD of hosts, the God of the armies of Israel, whom thou hast defied.
- I Samuel 17:45
Blessed be the LORD my strength, which teacheth my hands to war, and my fingers to fight.
- Psalm 144:1
The Lord forbids all forms of unjust killing. The just killing of another, however, is necessary at times due to the sinful actions arising from depraved human hearts. God grants permission or requires the taking of human life in three situations - in the cases of:
1. Legitimate self-defense
2. Just war
3. Necessary capital punishment
First, regarding legitimate self-defense, God's Word teaches, "If a thief be found breaking up, and be smitten that he die, there shall no blood be shed for him" (Exodus 22:2). In this case a thief was breaking into a person's house by breaking up the mud wall to enter. To protect himself and his family, the owner hit the thief in an attempt to subdue him. He did not intend to kill him, but to stop him. Death resulted, however, but the owner was free because his action was one of legitimate self-defense.
In acts of self-defense, legitimacy is determined by judging whether the defense response is appropriate for the perceived threat. For instance, a father shooting and killing an armed intruder in his home who refused to drop his weapon when commanded to do so is appropriate self-defense. The father had to shoot to avoid a real threat of being killed himself with his family. However, a father shooting and killing a person hiding behind a bush in his yard is an overreaction. The response is not appropriate for the threat; therefore, in this case his self-defense action would be an illegitimate overreaction.
Secondly, the Bible provides numerous examples of just and unjust wars. An examination of Israel's history will establish this fact. John the Baptist instructed the soldiers who enquired of him that they must deal justly, but not that they must leave their work. Neither Christ nor Peter objected to the occupation of the centurions to whom they spoke. Therefore, to condemn all wars or service in the armed forces on the basis of the sixth commandment, as some do, is not biblical.