I kinda chuckle at the title of this blog. I know that for many guns are a big deal in America. I am not here to address US—or any state’s—policy regarding guns. I am not an expert on that issue and don’t ever desire to be. I am, however, well equipped to address the issue of Jesus, the New Testament, and violence.
Christians are not to engage in violence
At the risk of giving away my conclusion at the front I will note two key points: 1) Jesus demands His followers to be absolute advocates of peace; 2) the people of God are not permitted to engage in retaliatory violence.
1)Jesus demands His followers to be absolute advocates of peace and the Kingdom of God
This one is simple. Jesus emphatically declares that it is the peacemakers who are blessed (Matthew 5:9). Perhaps a better way of explaining this point is to note that the primary mission of the people of God is to be proclaimers of the Kingdom of God. Our mission is to be a light to the nations. It is essential to note that the fundamental nature of the Kingdom of God is that it comes through love and not violence.
In addition, the kingdom of God is a kingdom of peace—a kingdom in which weapons of war will be used for agriculture and war will cease (in fulfillment of Isaiah 2:4). Now, it is without question that this kingdom has not yet come in fullness. But the point is that we are to be advocates of this kingdom. It is this kingdom that we pray will come (“Your kingdom come”; Matthew 6:10).
As a result, one cannot utter the Lord’s prayer and advocate for guns. This is tantamount to saying that “Jesus is Lord” (whose kingdom comes through love and suffering) but so also is Caesar (whose kingdom comes through violence). No, Jesus is Lord! And though Caesar may think he is, he is not.
The simple conclusion then is this: if Jesus is Lord, and if His kingdom is one of peace, then we are to be advocates of a kingdom of peace. We cannot, at the same time, be advocates of guns and violence. For that is how the kingdoms of the world operate. To use such means is to affirm that they have some rightful claim to power.
2)The people of God are not permitted to participate in retaliatory violence
The reason for making this point is simple: the primary violence in the NT is that which God’s people suffer. Do they ever respond with retaliatory violence? The answer is no. Never in the book of Acts, nor in any of the letters of the NT, are the people of God recorded as participating or encouraged to participate in retaliation. In fact, they are particularly exhorted to not retaliate: “Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God's wrath, for it is written: ‘It is mine to avenge; I will repay,’ says the Lord. On the contrary: ‘If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink.’” (Romans 12:19-20).
Furthermore, Jesus provides no opportunity for retaliation among His followers: “But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also” (Matthew 5:39).
In fact, we can take this one step further. The people of God are not only not permitted to retaliate with violence, but they must respond by giving a blessing: “To sum up, all of you be harmonious, sympathetic, brotherly, kindhearted, and humble in spirit; not returning evil for evil or insult for insult, but giving a blessing instead; for you were called for the very purpose that you might inherit a blessing” (1 Peter 3:8-9). The notion that a follower of Christ may yield a gun for retaliatory violence appears to blatantly contradict such passages and the whole tenor of the NT.
Responding to objections
Buy a Sword
Now at this point, many cite Jesus’ command to sell your robe and buy a sword (Luke 22:36). It is very difficult to conclude that Jesus meant this literally—even though the disciples appear to take Him literally (remember the disciples are the ones who want to call fire down from heaven and destroy the Samaritans; Luke 9:54)—when the following factors are considered.
It is first important to note the context of Luke 22. Jesus was preparing His disciples for their ministry to the nations, which was about to begin. Jesus explains to them that their future mission will not be like the missions He had sent them out on previously (cf Luke 9:1-6; 10:1-11; Note that Luke 22:35 directly refers to the events of Luke 9 and 10). While they were relatively safe in their earlier missions, their future missions will be perilous. Note the strong contrast, “but now!” in Luke 22:36. This emphasis, which is readily apparent in the Greek, is meant to heighten the disparity between the relatively peaceful efforts they experienced in the previous sendings (Luke 9, 10), with what is coming! Thus, Jesus declares, “But now if you have a purse, take it, and also a bag; and if you don't have a sword, sell your cloak and buy one” (Luke 22:36).
That Jesus was speaking hyperbolically (exaggerating for the sake of effect) and not literally is evident first by the overwhelming testimony of the NT that demands radical non-violence and non-retaliation. For Jesus to be encouraging them to buy a sword for self-defense would contradict everything He has been saying for the past three years.
Secondly, just a dozen or so verses later, Peter, using one of the swords which the disciples possessed, cuts off a man’s ear. Jesus’ response is not: “I told you that you would need those.” No, Jesus rebukes them for using it, and reverses Peter’s action: “But Jesus answered, "No more of this!" And he touched the man's ear and healed him” (Luke 22:51).
Thirdly, there is the fact that nowhere else in the NT do we find any teaching on the use of swords for self-defense. We don’t see any indication of the disciples defending themselves in Acts by means of a sword. There were certainly ample opportunities for them to do so. Stephen could have used a sword in Acts 7. A sword might have been helpful to James and Peter in Acts 12. Paul could have used a sword on numerous occasions. None of the letters of the NT encourage the persecuted churches to fight back, or to purchase swords. Furthermore, the people of God in the book of Revelation have only one weapon: namely, their prophetic words (Rev 11:5).
I did not come to bring peace
Others may attempt to cite Luke 10:51: “Do you think I came to bring peace on earth? No, I tell you, but division.” The problem here is that Jesus is not suggesting that Christians are to go around seeking conflict! It is clear that in order to be peacemakers we are to avoid conflict. After all, we are to be ambassadors for the prince of peace (in fulfillment of Isaiah 9:6). What Jesus is indicating in this passage is that the inevitable result of the Gospel is division. Division may not be the goal, but, unfortunately, it is the result. When one family member becomes a Christian, it often results in division. That is precisly what Jesus says in the next two verses (cf Luke 10:52-53). It would be downright silly to suggest that Jesus would have us respond to this division with violence.
If the fundamental expression of Christian living is to love my enemies and pray for those who persecute me (Matt 6:44), then, I ask, how could I do so with a gun holstered to my side? Does this express contradiction not end the discussion? I think this is all summed up in this: a good friend, Sami Awad, a Palestinian, non-violent peace activist, has a sticker in his office that says, “when Jesus said, ‘love your enemies,’ I think He probably meant don’t kill them.”