As one who teaches that Christians are under Christ’s command to love their enemies and refrain from violence against them (Luke 6:27-36, Matthew 5:38-48), I have heard every counter-argument in the book. The paradigm of nonviolent enemy love does not align with with the type of Christianity many of us are born into, and out of that tension we’re often forced to try to explain away what Jesus taught on the matter.
It is impossible to justify violence against enemies using the teachings of Jesus (though there’s a frequent attempt to misuse Luke 22:26, which I’ve dealt with here). Since one cannot justify being a pistol-packer from Jesus himself, many turn to the Old Testament for validation. However, even grossly misapplying the stories of the Old Testament, one still cannot arrive at a solid argument for individual Christians being armed to the teeth with guns. The closest one can get is an argument for jihad– because religious war is really the bulk of what we see in the OT.
However, folks certainly do try to justify Christians and guns from the OT, and they’ll often turn to Exodus 22:2 to do so. Let me quickly explain why this simply doesn’t work.
First, as Christians we do not turn to the Law of Moses to find our ethical standards for living– we are under the Law of Christ, not Moses. Furthermore, the works of Jesus brought a complete end to the law and all of its regulations. Even Paul himself called out followers of Jesus who still taught we were to follow the Law of Moses, and said either every regulation is still in full effect, or none of it is (Gal 5:3). Thus, when someone appeals to the OT to skirt around something Jesus said, they’re not only wrong but it shows they’ve missed the entire point of Scripture itself (John 5:39).
However, even if appealing to the Law of Moses were a valid argument, Exodus 22:2 still doesn’t work to justify American style armed self defense. Let’s look at the verse:
“If a thief is caught breaking in at night and is struck a fatal blow, the defender is not guilty of bloodshed” Ex 22:2
At face value, that certainly seems to justify lethal violence in self defense– but it just so happens that Exodus 22:2 is only part of that law, which is precisely why those who misuse it do not continue the full quote. The second half, found in the next verse says:
“But if it happens in daylight, the one who killed the thief is guilty of murder.” (v3)
This verse was written to ancient nomads living in tents in the desert, and covers two scenarios: one where you’re startled by an intruder in your tent when it is complete darkness, and one where you can fully see them in daylight. The concession of verse 22 is clearly pointing to being startled in the darkness by an intruder, and the intruder accidentally ends up dead.
When people are scared in the dark and try to get away, bad things can happen even though the individual doesn’t intend it. For example, if you’re grabbed while walking on a dark path and shove the attacker to get away, but the attacker falls and dies, it would be disingenuous to say that lethality was an actual intent. This verse made room for those kinds of incidents when lethality was clearly not the intention.
However, the verse then switched to daylight– when you can actually see the intruder in your home. In this scenario, any kind of violent response that would lead to death is not only condemned, but considered murder. In these cases, the one who used lethal violence against a day-time intruder would themselves be put to death.
While often used by gun-slingers to justify shooting a home intruder, verse 3 actually backfires (see what I did there?) on the one making the argument.
If we were to apply verse 3 to the modern world (which we’re not supposed to) we’d see that for guns to be used properly they must be precisely aimed. One can only aim at a target if there is enough light to actually see the target. If there were enough light to see the target and formulate the intent to kill the intruder, such scenarios would be considered murder and punishable by death if we were to actually apply the full passage.
Here’s the score card:
Trying to get away from someone who attacks you in the dark, and they accidentally get killed? Understandable.
You draw a gun, aim at an intruder and pull the trigger? That’s murder.
Thus, appealing to Exodus 22 not only fails to win the theological argument, but actually shows that Christians who’d use a gun to kill an intruder would suffer death by stoning under the Law of Moses.