What does the Bible say about guns?
When I was in seminary, I took a class from one of my favorite professors.
I don’t remember how it came up, but she criticized the United States for being the only country to ever use nuclear weapons.
She was, of course, talking about the bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945.
I challenged her on that criticism by telling her about my dad.
Jim Tindall joined the Marines in 1944 when he was only 17 years old.
He fought in the Philippines with Marine Bomber Squadron VBM 611.
He was with the ground troops whose job was to capture and secure airfields from the Japanese for the bombers.
When the Philippines were retaken, his next task was going to be part of the invasion of Japan.
Had that invasion taken place, casualties on both sides would have been astronomical.
One study estimated that invading Japan would cost 1.7–4 million American casualties, including 400,000–800,000 fatalities.
There was also an estimate of five to ten million Japanese fatalities.
The odds were against my dad surviving that invasion.
Thankfully, that invasion did not happen.
It did not happen because we dropped those 2 bombs.
While still horrifying, the use of those bombs saved hundreds of thousands, and maybe millions, of lives.
Including Jim Tindall’s.
It certainly would have been better if there had been no war at all and so no need to use those bombs.
But that was not the way it was.
Were we justified in using those weapons?
Today I am going to talk about different weapons.
I could be talking about any weapon.
But the question you asked me to talk about was what the Bible says about guns.
In the United States today, there is a great debate about gun violence and whether we should be able to regulate guns as a society.
And I can understand why this is important.
Here are some statistics.
In 2016, 4.7 million pistols, 850,000 revolvers, 4.2 million rifles, 850,000 shotguns and 833,000 uncategorized firearms were manufactured in the United States.
That does not include imported firearms of which there were 4.5 million.
It does not include the ones already here.
That’s a lot of guns.
Many of them are used for sport or hunting.
I own two shotguns.
I take them to the skeet or trap or sporting clays ranges and try to hit clay targets shot from slings.
I also occasionally watch the NRA channel (I think its actual name is the Outdoors Channel, but it’s mainly a gun show).
They have these competitions where someone goes through an obstacle course that makes them shoot at targets from angles and distances while standing behind or beside “cover”.
I confess, it looks like fun.
I also know people that hunt.
I have no interest in hunting, but I have fired a few rounds at targets from a hunting rifle.
It was fun.
But these weapons can also be used on people, right?
Here are some more statistics.
In 2017, there were 14,500 gun murders in the U.S.
In Hiroshima and Nagasaki there were 226,000 deaths.
So in the U.S. over the last 20 years, perhaps, we have had more deaths from gun violence than from the bombs at Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
Does the Bible say anything about using weapons and specifically guns against other people to kill or injure?
I will limit my answer to the New Testament and the specifically the words of Jesus.
Those are the words that we try to live by, right?
So, what does Jesus say about guns?
Of course, the flippant answer to that is nothing … nothing at all.
When Jesus walked the earth, there were no guns.
Nor were there nuclear weapons, missiles, B-17s (which my uncle George Thursby flew in), tanks, cannons, long bows … you get the picture.
To say that Jesus has nothing to say about guns would be to say Jesus has nothing to say about any weapon that did not exist in his day.
But that is the beauty of Jesus.
Jesus speaks to us in 2020, not because he specifically addresses things inconceivable to him during his time on earth, but because Jesus speaks to a way of life that promotes love of God and love of neighbor.
How that applies to weapons is complicated.
There are generally three things we might think of when we think about Jesus and guns.
Jesus says, “turn the other cheek”.
Jesus says, “blessed are the peacemakers”.
Jesus says, “those who live by the sword will die by the sword”.
Hearing Jesus say these things, it would be easy to say that Jesus would reject any kind of gun that could be used to harm another person, which is basically all of them, right?
But then we get to today’s scripture reading.
Luke 22: 35-38
35 He said to them, ‘When I sent you out without a purse, bag, or sandals, did you lack anything?’ They said, ‘No, not a thing.’ 36He said to them, ‘But now, the one who has a purse must take it, and likewise a bag. And the one who has no sword must sell his cloak and buy one. 37For I tell you, this scripture must be fulfilled in me, “And he was counted among the lawless”; and indeed what is written about me is being fulfilled.’ 38They said, ‘Lord, look, here are two swords.’ He replied, ‘It is enough.’
Did you hear that?
Jesus tells his disciples this:
And the one who has no sword must sell his cloak and buy one.
Swords were the handguns of Jesus day.
So, today would Jesus say, sell your coat and buy a gun?
People have been puzzling over this passage since Luke handed out his Gospel.
It just does not sound like Jesus, right?
So let’s put it in context and see what it might mean.
Our text comes from Luke’s description of the Last Supper.
Jesus tells his disciples about what their lives were going to be like after he was gone.
Jesus reminds his disciples that when he sent them out on their own before, they were told to take nothing with them because they could expect to be welcome wherever they went.
In those days, Jesus was hailed as a healer and teacher.
Jesus was famous and honored and well liked and … well … feared.
Surely people would, and did, feed and shelter his disciples.
But things were about to change.
Jesus was going to die the death of a criminal.
So, all his followers, and certainly his inner circle, would be considered outlaws as well.
Hospitality was unlikely.
People would probably react to the disciples with derision and scorn.
Many were going to want the disciples dead.
Jesus was telling them to be prepared.
A sword was more important than a coat.
Jesus is telling his disciples that they are about to be outlaws and will need food, shelter and security in order to survive.
And Jesus wanted them to survive.
They were to be his witnesses to the world.
To do that they needed to live.
And to survive, they needed to be armed.
But the purpose of being armed was to prevent someone from taking what they needed to survive.
Swords were for self-preservation.
Preservation of the community.
So you might ask, how is that consistent with turning the other cheek, or being a peacemaker, or avoiding death by sword?
We need more context.
Earlier in Luke, Jesus gives this instruction to his followers.
29If anyone strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also; and from anyone who takes away your coat do not withhold even your shirt.
Does that mean we must allow folks to assault us and rob us?
Make peace by being dooormats?
Have no way of protection ourselves?
That is not what Jesus is saying.
When Jesus said to turn the other cheek, he was not talking about an assault.
Getting a slap on the cheek in Jesus’ day was just an insult.
It was humiliating and demeaning.
Then and now the normal response was to strike back.
It’s what I would want to do.
But when we strike back, things often escalate and go out of control.
Jesus is saying don’t do that.
Do what you must to make peace, defend if you must, but no more.
When Jesus says to give up your shirt if someone takes your coat, he is again not saying that we are to be doormats.
Jesus is saying that you should not harm or kill over stuff.
Stuff can be replaced.
But it is a bit more than that.
Jesus is also saying that we need to understand proportion.
Insults are no reason to draw blood.
Your stuff is not to be a reason for violence.
And while in appropriate circumstances swords can be used for self-preservation, when you pull one out, it leads to a sword fight and sometimes you lose.
Which is why Jesus says to live by the sword is to die by the sword.
It’s just true.
And everyone in those days knew it.
But there is another reason to think before you decide to fight.
When I started boxing, Craig Wolfley, my coach, told me that there were tow things I needed to know.
I was going to get hit.
I was going to hit.
If I was not able to do either of those, boxing was not for me.
The same is true here.
Don’t square off to fight, unless you are ready, willing and able to fight.
Why do I say this?
The live and die by the sword comes in this context.
Jesus is about to be arrested.
Some of his disciples pull their swords.
Jesus tells his disciples to put their swords away.
Why does Jesus tell them that?
First, Jesus does not want to be saved.
Second, if the disciples try to save him with their swords, they will all be killed by the large crowd of men armed with clubs and swords.
Trying to save Jesus from this crowd would be basically suicidal.
But there is also this.
Jesus did not want collateral damage.
When one of the disciples pulled out his sword, he cut off the ear of some poor servant who just happened to be standing nearby.
All this risk, for no reason.
So, what was Jesus saying when he tells his disciples to arm themselves?
I think it goes something like this:
You are to love God and love each other.
Caring for and about other people is evidence of both.
Caring for yourself preserves your ability to do those things.
So, if someone is trying to harm you or your neighbor, you are allowed to draw your sword.
If someone is trying to take the things you or your neighbor need to survive, you are allowed to draw your sword.
But don’t use your sword to respond to insults.
Don’t use your sword to protect stuff.
Don’t use your sword when you just can’t win.
For the disciples, that meant swords were allowed … ever recommended … sometimes
In 2020, maybe that means guns are appropriate … sometimes.
So, if someone is trying to harm you or your neighbor, you are allowed to draw your gun.
If someone is trying to take the things you or your neighbor need to survive, you are allowed to draw your gun.
But don’t use your gun to respond to insults.
Don’t use your gun to protect stuff.
Don’t use your gun when you just can’t win.
I think that is what Jesus is saying.
So, how do we decide when to point and shoot at another human being?
This is where the issues of war and guns converge.
Last week Matt talked about war and military service.
For centuries, people have tried to define a “just war”.
A war Jesus might approve of.
What does such a thing look like?
- The war must be permissible under the law.
- It must be just or warranted.
- It must be proportional.
- It must do only what needs to be done and no more.
- It must be the last resort.
That sounds a bit like Jesus.
That is where we might decide to turn the other cheek.
That is where we might decide that giving up our stuff is better than taking a life.
That is where we might decide to refuse to give up our lives in an unwinnable fight.
But trying to figure that out in different circumstances can make your head hurt.
It would be better if we had no reason to use guns, but that is not our world right now.
That is why I can say, with some confidence, that my seminary professor who decried weapons was naïve.
Now, I would be remiss if I did not respond to questions I have been asked and which many of you might have about church security.
That is a matter that we plan to address.
But I am no fan of guns into church.
It’s a matter of competence.
It’s a matter of trust.
Who is competent?
Who is trustworthy?
Who is competent and trustworthy to decide those things?
There is too much risk of injury to bystanders.
Kind of like what happened to that poor servant at Jesus’ arrest.
An errant sword swing cut off his ear.
We want none of that here.
What does the Bible say about guns?
But worth thinking about.