The Church and God’s Law (16)

If the thief is caught while breaking in and is struck so that he dies, there will be no blood-guiltiness on his account (Ex.22:2).

Private property is important to God, and is clearly protected under the Eighth Commandment. The sin of Adam and Eve was to take what God had said was not their’s, and God judged them.  When criminals seek to seize another person’s property by breaking in and violence ensues, the victim is certainly entitled to forcibly defend himself, and what belongs to him. The criminal breaking in has exposed himself to the householder’s legitimate defensive strength and wrath. It may be the last thing the criminal does this side of facing the final judgment of God. If so, so be it.

Breaking in is a particular form of theft, and violence. The householder, if he hears a noise in his home at night, is at a disadvantage. He does not know what is happening, and cannot be expected to know. On confronting his assailant, he may still not know if the attacker is intent on murder, or rape, or kidnapping, or if the thief is only concerned to steal. And he is not obliged to determine this before he protects the lives of his family; he may kill his assailant in the process. This is the risk that the thief takes in breaking in.

This is one of the reasons why community access to firearms is so important. There is nothing like the point of a gun to stop someone committing a crime. In fact, this is an issue that often goes unnoticed.

Law-abiding citizens in America used guns in self-defence 2.5 million times in 1993 (about 6,825 times per day), and actually shot and killed two and a half times as many criminals as police did (1,527 to 606)… [1]

Having said this, once a criminal has been arrested from his activities, the intended victim and any assistants are obligated to desist from unnecessary violence. Their goal has not been to kill the assailant (though this may have occurred in the struggle), but to protect their household and  property, and ensure the assailant is compelled to face justice. With justice will come restitution for the victim.

There is another point to this text, just as important. The Bible here shows that everyone has a responsibility in the community to help their neighbour, and to enforce godly law. The reason in other texts that an assailed person “cries out” (such as Deut.22:27), is with a hope or expectation that help may come. The notion of the citizen’s arrest is Biblical in origin, and a legitimate aspect of community safety and protection.

For me to hear my neighbour’s cry for help when he is attacked and do nothing, is to implicate me in the crime against him. In fact, one of the Bible’s description of an evil man, is this: “When you see a thief, you are with pleased with him…” (Ps.50:18). Forceful and practical community response is a deterrent to criminals, and is obviously a means of strengthening a community.

Theft is a blight on any community. Thus every community member has a responsibility to do what he can to prevent theft, and to assist in the apprehension of thieves, and bringing them to justice. The Bible commands us to do this.


[1] Pat Buchanan, “America is an Armed Camp,”, 4/4/2012.