The Morality of Self-Defense and Military Action

The Judeo-Christian Tradition

by David B. Kopel


Is it true that Judaism and Christianity forbid the use of defensive force?

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February 2017


Pages 471
Volumes 1
Size 6 1/8x9 1/4
Topics Current Events and Issues/Society
  Military History/General

Shedding new light on a controversial and intriguing issue, this book will reshape the debate on how the Judeo-Christian tradition views the morality of personal and national self-defense.

Are self-defense, national warfare, and revolts against tyranny holy duties—or violations of God's will? Pacifists insist these actions are the latter, forbidden by Judeo-Christian morality. This book maintains that the pacifists are wrong. To make his case, the author analyzes the full sweep of Judeo-Christian history from earliest times to the present, combining history, scriptural analysis, and philosophy to describe the changes and continuity of Jewish and Christian doctrine about the use of lethal force. He reveals the shifting patterns of thought in both religions and presents the strongest arguments on both sides of the issue.

The book begins with the ancient Hebrews and Genesis and covers Jewish history through the Holocaust and beyond. The analysis then shifts to the story of Christianity from its origins, through the Middle Ages and the Reformation, up the present day. Based on this scrutiny, the author concludes that—contrary to popular belief—the legitimacy of self-defense is strongly supported by Judeo-Christian scripture and commentary, by philosophical analysis, and by the respect for human dignity and human rights on which both Judaism and Christianity are based.


  • Takes a multidisciplinary approach, directly engaging with leading writers on both sides of the issue
  • Examines Jewish and Christian sacred writings and commentary and explores how interpretations have changed over time
  • Offers careful analysis of topics such as the political systems of the ancient Hebrews, the Papacy's struggle for independence, the ways in which New England ministers incited the American Revolution, and the effects of the Vietnam War on the American Catholic church's views on national self-defense
  • Covers the many sects that have played crucial roles in the debate over the legitimacy of armed force, including Gnostics, Manicheans, Lutherans, Calvinists, and Quakers
  • Engages with the ideas of leading Jewish philosophers such as Rashi and Maimonides; Christian philosophers such as Origen, Augustine, Aquinas, and Sidney; and the most influential modern exponents of pacifism, such as Dorothy Day, the Berrigan Brothers, and John Howard Yoder
Author Info

David B. Kopel, JD, is adjunct professor of advanced constitutional law at Denver University, Sturm College of Law. He is the author or coauthor of 15 books, including the first law school textbook on gun law and policy: Firearms Law & the Second Amendment: Regulation, Rights and Policy.



"Engaging and certainly controversial, this book lays out a tendentious argument and reading of history in its promotion of a gun culture. . . . Summing Up: Recommended. Upper-division undergraduates through faculty."—Choice

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