What are we considering when we talk about Legitimate Killing? – War, Death Penalty, Assassination/Special Operations, Self Defence
In Exodus 20v13 God says “Thou shalt not Kill”
KJV/ASV – use the word “kill”, but
Amplified/Complete Jewish Bible/ESV/Good News/Message/Murder/NLT use the word “Murder”
Is there a difference in these meanings?
Kill – to deprive of life in any manner; cause the death of; slay.
Murder – the killing of another human being under conditions specifically covered in law. In the U.S., special statutory definitions include murder committed with malice aforethought, characterized by deliberation or premeditation or occurring during the commission of another serious crime, as robbery or arson (first degree murder), and murder by intent but without deliberation or premeditation (second-degree murder). To kill or slaughter inhumanly or barbarously.
What is the biblical meaning?
The rendering of the sixth commandment in the King James was very unfortunate. “Thou shalt not kill” in recent versions (like the NKJV, NIV, RSV, ASB, NASB, etc.) is accurately translated “You shall not murder” (Ex. 20:13). In Hebrew, as in English, the words for “murder” and “kill” can be used interchangeably, but their different meanings are easily understood from the context.
The Ten Commandments forbid murder, not killing The chapter following the giving of the Ten Commandments has a number of commands from God to execute criminals, including:
- “He who strikes a man so that he dies shall surely be put to death.” Ex. 21:12
- “He who strikes his father or his mother shall surely be put to death.” Ex. 21:15
- “He who kidnaps a man… shall surely be put to death.” Ex. 21:16
- “He who curses his father or his mother shall surely be put to death.” Ex. 21:17
- “[If an unborn baby is killed] you shall give life for life.” Ex. 21:23
It is not plausible to suppose that God contradicted Himself just a few sentences after delivering the Ten Commandments to Moses. Clearly God prohibited murder but insisted upon execution of murderers and others.
God forbid murder, and commanded the lawful execution of murderers.
Execution Not Optional
As punishment for murder, the death penalty was applicable to each and every murderer:
- “Whoever kills any man shall surely be put to death…. You shall have the same law for the [foreigner] and for one from your own country; for I am the Lord your God.” Lev. 24:17-22
The death penalty was not a maximum penalty, nor was it optional. As the Lord said:
- ‘Moreover you shall take no ransom for the life of a murderer who is guilty of death, but he shall surely be put to death… So you shall not pollute the land where you are; for blood defiles the land, and no atonement can be made for the land, for the blood that is shed on it, except by the blood of him who shed it.’ Num. 35:31-33
Did God change this law in the New Testament? Consider that Jesus supports the death penalty in Matthew and Mark, and so does John in Revelation, and Paul in Acts and Romans, as does the book of Hebrews.
How do we reconcile the Old and New Testaments
Should a Christian go to war?
This question has caused a lot of division in the body of Christ. Should a Christian go to war where he might kill other people when the Bible says to “turn the other cheek” (Luke 6:29)? Is it right to do war against others or does the Bible forbid it?
War is a state of declared, open, and armed conflict between two or more nations. It is sometimes undertaken in self-defence such as when the U.S. entered WWII as a result of Japan attacking Pearl Harbour. Other times, however, nations unjustly go to war to take spoils from other countries. Murder, on the other hand, is an unlawful taking of life and is always wrong. When nations go to war, it is declared lawful by the countries going to war — sometimes for moral reasons and other times for immoral reasons. Therefore, and immoral war could be considered a form of murder where a moral war could be in self defence. But not all war is wrong.
It is difficult to determine when war would be a righteous endeavour given that leaders of nations are not Christian and could easily have ungodly reasons for going to war. Nevertheless, war is an unfortunate reality in this world and it causes great destruction, misery, and loss of life. It should be avoided if possible and undertaken only as a last resort.
The Bible teaches that we have the right to self defence, Exodus 22:2: “If the thief is caught while breaking in, and is struck so that he dies, there will be no blood guiltiness on his account.” The Bible also tells us to protect the innocent, Deut. 19:10, “So innocent blood will not be shed in the midst of your land which the Lord your God gives you as an inheritance, and blood guiltiness be on you.” Also, see “Fathers shall not be put to death for their sons, nor shall sons be put to death for their fathers; everyone shall be put to death for his own sin,” (Deut. 24:16). If we were to apply these principles to war, I would conclude that war is justifiable when it is in self defence and/or when it is to protect the innocent. Therefore, a Christian could rightfully engage in war given those conditions.
More on war
We can see that war is not a sin in itself since in the Old Testament God sends people into war:
- “Then the Lord spoke to Moses in the plains of Moab by the Jordan opposite Jericho, saying, 51 “Speak to the sons of Israel and say to them, “When you cross over the Jordan into the land of Canaan, 52 then you shall drive out all the inhabitants of the land from before you, and destroy all their figured stones, and destroy all their molten images and demolish all their high places; 53 and you shall take possession of the land and live in it, for I have given the land to you to possess it,” (Num. 33:50-53).
In fact, God uses war as a means of disciplining nations.
- “I sent a plague among you after the manner of Egypt; I slew your young men by the sword along with your captured horses, And I made the stench of your camp rise up in your nostrils; Yet you have not returned to Me, declares the Lord,” (Amos 4:10).
Also, the Lord is called a warrior.
- “The Lord is a warrior; The Lord is His name. 4″Pharaoh’s chariots and his army He has cast into the sea; And the choicest of his officers are drowned in the Red Sea,” (Exodus 15:3-4).
From this we can easily conclude that going to war is not a sin. That is, if it complies with the biblical instructions of self-defence and protection of the innocent.
Furthermore, Christians are instructed to be in subjection to the governing authorities whose establishment is from God. This establishment has the right to declare war and to punish its citizenry, even by capital punishment.
- “Let every person be in subjection to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those which exist are established by God. 2 Therefore he who resists authority has opposed the ordinance of God; and they who have opposed will receive condemnation upon themselves. 3 For rulers are not a cause of fear for good behavior, but for evil. Do you want to have no fear of authority? Do what is good, and you will have praise from the same; 4 for it is a minister of God to you for good. But if you do what is evil, be afraid; for it does not bear the sword for nothing; for it is a minister of God, an avenger who brings wrath upon the one who practices evil,” (Rom. 13:1-4).
- “Submit yourselves for the Lord’s sake to every human institution, whether to a king as the one in authority, 14 or to governors as sent by him for the punishment of evildoers and the praise of those who do right,” (1 Peter 2:13-14).
Finally, notice that some soldiers approached John the Baptist and inquired about repentance. John did not tell them to stop being soldiers, but to do their jobs properly, honestly.
- “And some soldiers were questioning him, saying, “And what about us, what shall we do?” And he said to them, “Do not take money from anyone by force, or accuse anyone falsely, and be content with your wages,” (Luke 3:14).
From all of this, we can see that going to war is not wrong it itself and that a Christian can go to war under the right circumstances.
The Christian View of War: Can War Ever be Just?
By Dr. Richard P. Bucher
How can anyone justify war from a Christian perspective? Is not one of the Ten Commandments “You shall not kill” (Exodus 20:13; Deuteronomy 5:17)? Do we not hear in the Sermon on the Mount, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God?” Doesn’t the Bible repeatedly call God, the “God of peace” (Rom 15:33)? Doesn’t Jesus himself command non-violence for all Christians when he says, “Do not resist the one who is evil. But if anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also” (Mt 5:39)?
Since this is the teaching of the Christian faith, can war ever be just? Can war ever be necessary? Can war ever be God-pleasing?
Can War Ever be Just?
It was the great church father Augustine of Hippo who first sought to give some specificity to a definition of a just war. In fact, his position, which he articulated in the early Fifth Century, has long been the Church’s traditional definition of a just war. Augustine held that a just war must have five components. A just war:
(1) Must be waged for self-defense, rather than conquest, plunder, or political oppression;
(2) Must be initiated by the proper authority, i.e., lawful government, rather than an angry mob, etc.
(3) Must be fought with the right intention: peace. It should not be fought to gain land, power, wealth, etc.
(4) Must have a reasonable chance for success.
(5) Must use means proportionate to the goal. If the goal of a war is to liberate an oppressed people, for example, it makes no sense to destroy all their cities in the process, or to bring them under further subjection.
Unfortunately, throughout the Middle Ages, as demonstrated especially by the Crusades, Augustine’s definition was usually not followed. European governments, all of which considered themselves Christian realms, routinely waged war against one another, and rarely for the purposes of self-defense. Even the Pope had a standing army, and he, too, invaded other nations.
Because of the endless European warring, and even more because of the teaching of Scripture, Martin Luther saw few valid reasons to go to war. For him self-defense and the restoration of peace were the only valid reasons to go to war, and even then war had to be begun with great deliberation.
At the very outset I want to say that whoever starts a war is in the wrong. And it is only right and proper that he who first draws his sword is defeated, or even punished, in the end. This is what has usually happened in history. Those who have started wars have lost them, and those who fought in self-defense have only seldom been defeated. Worldly government has not been instituted by God to break the peace and start war, but to maintain peace and to avoid war. Paul says in Romans 13 [:4] that it is the duty of the sword to protect and punish, to protect the good in peace and to punish the wicked with war. God tolerates no injustice and he has so ordered things that warmongers must be defeated in war . . . And in Psalm 68 [ :30] God has the psalmist sing of him, “Dissipat gentes, quae bella volunt, ” that is, “He scatters the peoples who delight in war.”
. . . Let this be, then, the first thing to be said in this matter: No war is just, even if it is a war between equals, unless one has such a good reason for fighting and such a good conscience that he can say, “My neighbor compels and forces me to fight, though I would rather avoid it.” In that case, it can be called not only war, but lawful self-defense
. . . Take my advice, dear lords. Stay out of war unless you have to defend and protect yourselves and your office compels you to fight. Then let war come. Be men, and test your armor. . . The reason is that every lord and prince is bound to protect his people and to preserve the peace for them. That is his office; that is why he has the sword, Romans 13 [:4]. This should be a matter of conscience for him (Luther’s Works 46:120-121).
If the war was just, then the Christian could support and participate in the war with a good conscience, knowing that he was fighting in love in order to protect his neighbour.
The alternative view, that Christians should be Pacifists is held very strongly by the Quakers. The following website gives the alternative argument that Christians should not go to war => http://christianquaker.net/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=56&Itemid=68