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After every mass shooting we are immediately reminded by media personalities, politicians and even pastors that NOW is not the time to talk about guns. We need to pray, listen, empathize, and eulogize the victims and the first responders.

Yes.

Absolutely.

Let’s do all of those things but let’s not forget this time – LIKE WE HAVE EVERY OTHER TIME – to come back to this increasingly urgent issue. A lot of people are dying while we try very hard not to have this conversation.

Assuming that we do get permission at some point to have this debate – assuming that we don’t forget or get distracted by the next politician to post a lewd selfie on the internet – here are a few verses from Holy Scripture that I would like to sow into the conversation.

Luke 22:36-38

In the context of a discussion about his impending betrayal and arrest Jesus speaks ominously about the dangers and sacrifices that lie ahead. In stark contrast to their earlier reception in the Jewish villages he tells the disciples to prepare for hostility and resistance:

“But now let the one who has a moneybag take it, and likewise a knapsack. And let the one who has no sword sell his cloak and buy one.  For I tell you that this Scripture must be fulfilled in me: ‘And he was numbered with the transgressors.’ For what is written about me has its fulfillment.” And they said, “Look, Lord, here are two swords.” And he said to them, “It is enough.” (Luke 22:36–38 ESV)

This passage is often submitted as evidence that Jesus permitted violent self defence if the situation so warranted. However, the vast majority of commentators think that Jesus was speaking metaphorically here and that the disciples misunderstood the point he was trying to make. John Calvin for example said: “It was truly shameful and stupid ignorance, that the disciples, after having been so often informed about bearing the cross, imagine that they must fight with swords of iron.”1

Indeed, had the disciples understanding been accurate, it would be hard to understand why just a few hours later Jesus would rebuke Peter for drawing a sword in self defence.

Jesus said to him, “Put your sword back into its place. For all who take the sword will perish by the sword. (Matthew 26:52 ESV)

Either Jesus had a very short memory or the disciples were guilty of gross misinterpretation.

I’m not aware of a single commentator who thinks that Jesus was telling the disciples to stock up on actual swords.

Not one.

Matthew Henry for example says:

This is intended only to show that the times would be very perilous, so that no man would think himself safe if he had not a sword by his side. But the sword of the Spirit is the sword which the disciples of Christ must furnish themselves with.2

Therefore to use this verse to argue for unfettered access to military grade assault rifles is to be guilty of a greater interpretive error than even the one committed by the disciples. It is further to miss the fact that when the disciples misunderstood Jesus and immediately began to gather swords – Jesus told them to stop!

He said: “It is enough” (Luke 22:38 ESV). As in: ‘Enough of this kind of talk!’ He dismisses a subject in which the disciples were so hopelessly astray.3

Jesus did not advocate for violent self defence – far from it. He said to his disciples:

“I tell you, don’t resist an evildoer. On the contrary, if anyone slaps you on your right cheek, turn the other to him also. As for the one who wants to sue you and take away your shirt, let him have your coat as well.” (Matthew 5:39–40 HCSB)

If the only verse supporting your position on gun control is the one where the disciples badly misunderstood Jesus and where subsequently rebuked and dismissed for being hopelessly astray on the topic, then you have taken a wrong turn.

Luke 22:36-38 is not an argument against gun control.

Romans 13:1-4

Most readers of the New Testament are keenly aware of the limitations of the law. The Bible makes it clear that law is powerless to solve the problem of evil and human sin. The ultimate solution to our human brokenness is not better laws, better government, better public programs or better education. The ultimate solution is for people to repent of their sins, put their faith in Jesus Christ so as to receive the indwelling Holy Spirit.

Yes!

Yes!

A thousand times YES!

And yet, that is not to say that there is no further role for government and the rule of law. To say that something isn’t the ultimate solution is not to say that the thing has no use at all. The New Testament speaks very favourably about the on-going benefit of government and law. The Apostle Paul says:

Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God.  Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment. For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Would you have no fear of the one who is in authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive his approval, for he is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain. For he is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God’s wrath on the wrongdoer. (Romans 13:1–4 ESV)

According to the Bible, the role of the government is to resist and restrain the spread of evil. The Bible puts no hope in the law or in government to solve the problem of wickedness and evil, but it does see a role in the restriction of wickedness and evil. This passage has obvious implications for the conversation about guns.

Many Christians will rightly argue that: “The only solution to evil in our culture is the cross of Jesus Christ.”

That is true.

However they will go on from there to make a faulty application. They will say: “Therefore, we don’t need gun laws, we need Gospel preaching!”

But that is to deny the role of government in restricting and restraining evil. Seatbelts and speed limits do not solve the problem of traffic accidents – they do however serve to limit the frequency and severity of traffic accidents. The same basic logic applies to gun control. The government can and should have a role in limiting how much damage one angry person can do.

Yes we would still see acts of violence even if there were better gun laws but there would be fewer acts of violence and those acts would claim far fewer innocent victims. That isn’t a total victory, but neither is it something to be discounted, particularly if your loved one was one of the 59 innocent people killed by a machine gun wielding maniac in Las Vegas.

The first fatality probably was completely unavoidable.

The last 58 however almost certainly were not.

If people refuse to permit their government the right to restrain and restrict wickedness then they share a measure of responsibility for the anarchy and chaos that is sure to result.

The king does not bear the sword in vain. God gives the government extraordinary rights and powers in order to restrain wickedness and evil.

Thanks be to God!

1 Peter 2:13-17

Every Christian has to wrestle with the extent to which their cultural presuppositions have intermingled with their theological and biblical convictions. Every Christian has to ask why they believe the things that they do. Is it because of where and when I live? Or is it because of what God has said and caused to be written in his Word? It can be painful to discover how much of our theology is culturally rather than textually rooted. Many Christians are having that experience in the aftermath of this tragic shooting.

Why do so many Christians believe that they can and should own military grade weapons?

If the disciples were not to accumulate swords, why do we feel that we should accumulate guns?

When pressed on this question it is absolutely shocking to discover how many Christians will appeal to the potential need for them to rise up in armed insurrection and rebellion against their own government.

Where in the world does that belief come from? Because it most certainly does not come from the text of Scripture.

The Apostle Paul and Peter were both murdered by the greatest tyrant in Roman history. If any tyrant deserved to be violently put down it was Nero. And yet Paul said:“whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment” (Romans 13:2 ESV).

And Peter said:

Be subject for the Lord’s sake to every human institution, whether it be to the emperor as supreme, or to governors as sent by him to punish those who do evil and to praise those who do good…. Honor everyone. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the emperor. (1 Peter 2:13–17 ESV)

Christians are citizens of a coming kingdom and we are commanded to live peaceably under the oversight of our imperfect human leaders. We are not instructed to rebel. We are not instructed to rise up. We are not instructed to dishonor. And we are certainly not instructed to store up weapons in our basement in case we need to assassinate our head of government!

The Bible says, ‘be subject for the Lord’s sake.’

The Bible says, ‘Honor the emperor.’

Like it or not, this is the Word of the Lord.

Daniel 6

The Book of Daniel provides two examples of how God’s people may resist an evil government. In chapter 3 Shadrach, Meshack and Abednego refuse (politely) to do what God forbids. In chapter 6 Daniel refuses (again politely) to not do what God requires.

The story of Daniel in Daniel 6 is particularly instructive. When Daniel heard about the King’s edict requiring everyone to pray to the King as a god, the Bible says:

he went to his house where he had windows in his upper chamber open toward Jerusalem. He got down on his knees three times a day and prayed and gave thanks before his God, as he had done previously. (Daniel 6:10 ESV)

Daniel resisted a tyrannical government by doing as he had done previously. He quietly and respectfully communicated that he was subject to a higher power.

Tremper Longman III puts it this way:

When Daniel heard about the law forbidding his prayer, he did not rally the troops for a strike or armed resistance, he prepared himself for death… Christians do not fight for their beliefs by assaulting or killing, but by dying.4

Jesus does not say, “Take up your AK47 and change the government!”; he says: “Take up your cross and follow me!”

The disciples of Jesus once again appear dangerously astray on this conversation. We need to go back to the Bible. We need to go back to Jesus. We need to seek again the things that make for peace.

Even still, come Lord Jesus.

 

By Paul Carter

 

N.B. The Into The Word podcast featuring Pastor Paul Carter returns on October 16th. Listen to past episodes here

***

1John Calvin, Calvin’s Commentaries (Complete), trans. John King, Accordance electronic ed. (Edinburgh: Calvin Translation Society, 1847), paragraph 71192.

2Matthew Henry, Commentary on the Whole Bible (Unabridged), Accordance electronic ed. (Altamonte Springs: OakTree Software, 2004), paragraph 34246.

3Leon Morris, Luke: An Introduction and Commentary, vol. 3 of Tyndale New Testament Commentaries. IVP/Accordance electronic ed. (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1988), 329.

4 Tremper Longman III, Daniel The NIV Application Commentary (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1999), 171.


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5 thoughts on “For When We Finally Get Around To Talking About Guns”

  1. I think you present a good start to the discussion, but I wish you would address the elephant(s) in the room: if it is to be argued that only the military (government) possesses firearms (beyond those allowed for hunting and target), does it not assume a government that does not partake of the same depravity of the individuals that make that government? In other words, if individuals cannot be trusted, why ought governments, created by individuals, be trusted? In modern times, it is obvious that North Korea and Spain are two examples of the imbalance of power between rulers and citizens. As far as human depravity goes, it is not that far back in history that a predominately Christian nation legally elected a genocidal maniac who unleashed the holocaust.

    If you mean that individual Christians must never take up arms to defend themselves or the innocent, then it must follow that those Christians who violently opposed Hitler were in the wrong. Or may it be suggested (as in your article) that the Christian faith is not advanced by lethal force, but also (not in your article) that there is a place for Christians to use force to defend the weak?

    As I said, the conversation needs to be broader. Until recently, a vague Christian consensus about justice and morality prevailed in Canada, the US, and other Western nations. This is quickly vanishing, and competing voices are clamouring for the authority to speak.

    Christians in the West have been prescient to note that the loss of a Christian worldview will have disastrous consequences, beginning with the fruit of the sexual revolution. For example, Western Christians have been warning that judgement will come to a nation that systematically destroys humans who are yet unborn. Now that we begin to see the chaos of judgement unfold, it should not surprise us that the violence hidden away in the abortuary is now routinely on display?

    But that violence is not limited to seemingly random acts of those who can access firearms, and I think that focussing on that problem is to miss the mark. Our government, Canada, is proudly destroying the young and has plans to do the same to the aged and infirm. To what extent is civil disobedience permitted for the Christian?

    Whatever answers we come to after reading the Scriptures, I think several must be considered: 1) God is not a pacifist and does not call His children to pacifism in all relationships; 2) God is concerned about justice, and that at times demands the toppling of tyrannical regimes; 3) No Biblical solution can leave whole populations defenceless in the face of evil (i.e., unarmed Jews in Esther’s time or in 1930’s Germany); 4) No Biblical solution can ignore the fact that governments are by nature, virtuous.

    Keep up the discussion–it has helped me to frame my own opinions; let’s broaden it though.

    1. I made an error in what I intended:

      I wrote: 4) No Biblical solution can ignore the fact that governments are by nature, virtuous.

      I omitted a crucial word: 4) No Biblical solution can ignore the fact that governments are NOT by nature, virtuous.

      1. Paul Carter says:

        Hey Scott, thank you for your comments – I always appreciate your perspective and the tone in which you present your point of view. Just to be clear, you may have confused me with Joe Carter over at TGC USA. We’re not related. I saw something on your FB page about Joe Carter’s article on gun control and wouldn’t want anyone to get mad at Joe because of me. Blessings!

        1. Yes, fixed it. Thanks!

  2. Paul Carter says:

    Just to save time, I’m not a pacifist and I make clear that “the king does not bear the sword in vain.” God gives government the authority to execute war on behalf of the vulnerable – it does not give that authority to individuals. I won’t be replying to comments decrying pacifism because that isn’t a belief I subscribe to nor is it the focus of the article.

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Paul Carter


Paul Carter attended Moody Bible Institute and is a graduate of York University (B.A.) and McMaster Divinity College (MDiv). He has been in pastoral ministry since 1994, serving in both Fellowship and Canadian Baptist churches in Oakville, Mississauga and Orillia, Ontario Canada. He presently serves as the Lead Pastor of First Baptist Church, Orillia, a large multi-staff church with a passion for biblical preaching and local mission.

Along with his friend Marc Bertrand he is the co-founder of the Covenant Life Renewal Association (CLRA) seeking Biblical and Spiritual revival within Canadian Baptist Churches. He also serves on the TGC Canada board.

Paul has written two books and is a frequent blogger on issues of Christian faith and living. You can find his devotional podcast at www.intotheword.ca

Paul is the happy husband of Shauna Lee and the proud papa of 5 beautiful children, Madison, Max, Mikayla, Peyton and Noa.

You can find him at:

www.intotheword.ca
www.adfontes.ca
www.firstbaptistorillia.org

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