The Right to Keep and Bear Arms: Your Constitutional and Biblical Right! (Part 3)

More Gun Control?

Unfortunately, recent random shooting murders in America have caused government imposed gun control to once again be publicly touted as the best solution to our society’s gun violence. For example:

President Barack Obama is thinking about implementing a new gun control measure by executive order and without the support of Congress. The proposed rule change would require anyone who sells more than 50 guns a year to obtain a federal license and conduct background checks on potential buyers…Obama opted against changing the rule by executive order in the past, apparently for legal reasons and because it’s unpopular…In the wake of the Oregon shooting, Obama is now “seriously considering” using his executive power to change that rule and implement other restrictions on gun rights. He discussed the idea with Attorney General Loretta Lynch following the Charleston shooting, and a group of White House staffers is now working on the proposal.1

In our last two posts, we noted how our Constitution’s Second Amendment guarantees an individual right, rather than merely a collective right, to keep and bear arms when it says, “A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.” We also noted how our own Supreme Court, as well as America’s founders, interpreted and understood this right in individual rather than a collective terms. In this post, we see that our right to keep and bear arms is a right that not only emanates from the thinking of America’s founding fathers, but it is also a right found in the pages of God’s Word, the Bible.

 

The Right to Bear Arms and the Bible

Most are startled to discover that this right to keep and bear arms, as enshrined by our Constitution’s framers in the Second Amendment, is also a biblical principle. What were the primary sources that America’s founders consulted when formulating the Constitution? According to Constitutional law professor John Eidsmoe, “The source most often identified by the founding fathers was the Bible, which accounted for 34 percent of all citations.”2 Since America’s founders derived much of their worldview from Scripture,3 it is not surprising to discover that a personal right to keep and bear arms is also a biblical principle.

 

Book of Nehemiah, Art by James Padgett

Book of Nehemiah, Art by James Padgett

For example, as Nehemiah rebuilt the walls around Jerusalem, he armed the wall’s builders so that they could protect themselves from Persian forces who were hostile to the building project (Neh. 4:13, 16-18, 21). Similarly, in this same general Persian era, the fate of the Jews was reversed as recorded in the Book of Esther when they were granted legal permission to defend themselves by force. Esther influenced the Persian king Ahasuerus to issue a decree allowing the Jews to defend themselves against their coming attackers (Esth. 8). This attack had been originally authorized by a previous decree from Ahasuerus (Esth. 3). Of this decree granting the Jews the right of self defense, Esther 8:11 says, “In them the king granted the Jews who were in each and every city the right to assemble and to defend their lives, to destroy, to kill and to annihilate the entire army of any people or province which might attack them, including children and women, and to plunder their spoil.” The end result of this decree was a stunning reversal and victory for the Jews resulting in the institution of a new feast day in Judaism, known as Puriim, to commemorate this momentous event (Esth. 9).

In a 2013 article entitled Ancient Hebrew Militia Law published in the Denver University Law Review, David B. Kopel explains how ancient Israel armed every man to defend his community and how this identical mindset existed in early colonial America.

New Englanders intensely self-identified with ancient Israel-from the first days of settlement in early 17th century (Israel in the wilderness) to the days of the American Revolution, when New England’s ‘black regiment’ of clergymen incited the Revolution as a religious duty, and described the thirteen American colonies as the modern version of the twelve confederate tribes of Israel. Thus, ancient Hebrew militia law is part of the intellectual background of the American militia system, and of the Second Amendment…Every male “from the age of twenty years up, all those in Israel who are able to bear arms”…were obliged to fight, to go forth “armed to battle.” Men who failed this duty “sinned against the Lord.”…”Although God may work miracles, protecting the righteous from harm, we may never force God’s hand by demanding a miracle—putting good people in danger and expecting God to protecting them.”…Israel’s military system was “based on the duty of every able-bodied male to bear arms and serve.” Israel relied on a militia, in which citizen soldiers would spend most of their time cultivating their farms, or engaged in other economic production, and would fight only for limited periods (ideally, after the harvest), and only when necessary. Similarly, during the American Revolution, most men served in their state militias, rather than the Continental Army. Thus, they were most able to keep their farms in production, and other economic activity in progress. This was an important reason why the United States was able to economically sustain a war that lasted eight years. Another purpose of the Hebrew militia system was the decentralization of power, for the preservation of liberty. The Etz Hayim, (a modern Conservative Jewish version of the Pentateuch with commentary), explains: “Deuteronomy does not intend that the Israelites maintain a standing army… Instead, they are to have a civilian army, or militia, mobilized at times of need… Reliance on a militia rather than a standing army for military needs is another example of Deuteronomy’s dispersal of power among different officials.” In Battles of the Bible, Chaim Herzog (a former President of Israel) and Mordechai Gichon (a professor of military history at Tel Aviv University) summarized how the militia system preserved popular participation in the government: “The people in arms formed the national assembly of initially sovereign peoples…Ancient Jewish society…never gave way to absolutism. The ‘people’ always remained…a body with influence on the affairs of state. This fact was instrumental not only in the preservation of the people in arms as the mainstay of the Israelite armed forces until the destruction of the First Temple (586 BC)…but also in the apparent readiness of the Israelites to bear the constant burden of military preparedness.”…If Western Civilization can be said to be founded on two pillars of “Athens and Jerusalem,” the Jewish pillar matches the Greek pillar in recognizing the importance of an armed people in preserving liberty through service in a militia of all free and able-bodied men.4

More significantly, in Luke 22:36, as Christ was sending out His disciples from the Upper Room into the hostile world, He said, “and whoever has no sword is to sell his coat and buy one.” In so doing, Christ provided not only for the self-defense of His disciples but also their right to defend themselves from aggression. Theologian Wayne Grudem similarly notes, “The verses discussed above…Luke 22:36-38…give significant support for the idea that Jesus wanted His disciples to have an effective weapon to use in self-defense.”5 Interestingly, the Greek word translated “sword” in Luke 22:36 is machaira, which is the same word used to depict the sword that the government wields in Romans 13:4. Thus, just as the state has the authority to punish criminals through the power of the sword, Christ’s disciples also have the right to defend themselves from hostile aggression through the power of the sword.

Many choose to ignore a passage such as Luke 22:36-38 and instead attempt to build Christ’s view of self-defense from the Sermon on the Mount (Matt. 5–7), which teaches “blessed are the peacemakers” (Matt. 5:9) and to turn the other cheek (Matt. 5:39). However, contextually, the Sermon on the Mount only governs interpersonal relationships rather than the reality of self defense from hostile aggression. Other sections of Scripture must be consulted in order to ascertain principles that govern the latter. Luke 22:36-38 better deals with Christ’s view of self-defense since its context pertains to Christ’s soon Ascension and the sending out of His disciples into the hostile world where many would physically threaten them because of their message. As New Testament scholar Alan Hultberg explains concerning Luke 22:36:

“In contrast to His earlier instructions to depend on the kindness of others when preaching, Jesus now required His disciples to provide for themselves, including for their defense against enemies. He was in effect telling His disciples that their message would be met with hostility.”6

The biblical justification for the right to keep and bear arms helps explain why so many reputed men of God have not only believed in but also articulated this very legal right. One such individual was Granville Sharpe. Sharpe was an abolitionist who worked alongside William Wilberforce as an English campaigner against the slave trade. He was also a noted biblical scholar and Greek grammarian who articulated an important Greek grammatical principle known as the “Granville Sharpe Rule.” In 1782, Sharpe explained:

No Englishman can be truly loyal who opposed the principles of English law whereby the people are required to have arms of defence in peace, for mutual as well as private defence…The laws of England always required the people to be armed, and not only armed, but to be expert in arms.7

Glock17

In sum, the individual’s right to bear arms represents a clear constitutional principle that also has its roots in the pages of Scripture. Remembering that this right emanates from these two great sources is something that we must keep in mind in our age, when our public officials frequently speak of marginalizing or taking this right away through the legislative process, or worse yet, through an imperial decree otherwise known as a “presidential executive order.” In our next post, we see that our right to keep and bear arms is a right that should and cannot be abridged by man since it falls under the category of “unalienable.”

 

To be continued…

 

 Endnotes


  1. http://dailycaller.com/2015/10/09/obama-considering-executive-order-on-gun-control/ []
  2. John Eidsmoe, Christianity and the Constitution: The Faith of Our Founding Fathers (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 1987), 51. []
  3. Donald S. Lutz, “The Relative Influence of European Writers on Late Eighteenth-Century American Political Thought,” American Political Science Review 78, no. 1 (March 1984): 192-94; idem, The Origins of American Constitutionalism (Baton Rouge, LA: Louisiana State University Press, 1988), 141-43. []
  4. David B. Kopel, “Ancient Hebrew Militia Law,” Denver University Law Review 90, (July 15, 2013): 175-78. http://www.denverlawreview.org/online-articles/2013/7/15/ancient-hebrew-militia-law.html []
  5. Wayne Grudem, Politics According to the Bible: A Comprehensive Resource for Understanding Modern Political Issues in Light of Scripture (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2010), 203. []
  6. Alan Hultberg, “Luke,” in The Apologetics Study Bible, ed. Ted Cabal(Nashville, TN: Holman, 2007), 1558. []
  7. Les Adams, The Second Amendment Primer: A Citizen’s Guidebook to the History, Sources, and Authorities for the Constitutional Guarantee of the Right to Keep and Bear Arms (NY: Skyhorse, 2013), 63. []

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