Is Killing Ever Right?
One reader wrote that his nine-year-old son had asked him this
question, and it's a great question. He wanted to know how people in
the army can kill other people if one of the Ten Commandments in the
bible says, "Thou shalt not kill." Wouldn't this imply that the
soldiers were sinning
when they kill the enemy on the battlefield?
Also, the father asked if I would take this question even further by
considering those unfortunate incidents when policemen kill people,
because he anticipated that this is the next question his son would be
asking. So, I will address the various conditions when killing is
justified, by providing support from the Scriptures.
Many people have misunderstood the Bible on the subject of killing
primarily because of an incorrect translation in the old King James
version of the Bible. The sixth commandment, in Exodus 20:13, does not
actually say, "Thou shalt not kill" as translated in the old King
James. A more accurate translation is provided in many of the newer
versions, such as the NIV, which says, "You shall not murder." The
Bible forbids the act of murder, which means the unjustified taking of
a person's life (including suicide, abortion,
and euthanasia), but it
doesn't forbid all killing. In fact, it is sometimes very
adamant that killing is the right thing to do, but it must be justified
in God's eyes. The Bible allows for three situations where
killing is justified:
- Killing in warfare
The Bible offers many examples where God commands His people to kill
their enemy aggressors in warfare. In Genesis 10 through 12
(specifically 10:5 and 11:9), God created the institution of nations,
and determined that people would be divided according to national
entities. God condemned aggression from one nation against
he sanctioned warfare as a means of protection from aggressors. The Old
Testament is filled with commands from God to Moses, Joshua, David, and
many others, to kill their enemy aggressors. Deuteronomy 20:1 says,
"When you go to war against your enemies and see horses and chariots
and an army greater than yours, do not be afraid of them, because the
LORD your God, who brought you up out of Egypt, will be with you."
Sometimes God even commanded the unmerciful annihilation of evil
nations. Deuteronomy 2:33-34 says, "The LORD our God delivered him over
to us and we struck him down, together with his sons and his whole
army. At that time we took all his towns and completely destroyed
them--men, women and children. We left no survivors."
By the same principles as for killing in warfare, we know that God
wants us to defend ourselves, and if an aggressor is too threatening
and persistent, especially if we are in fear for our lives, then we are
justified in killing the aggressor. This is actually what is happening
in warfare, when a nation becomes an aggressor and sends its troops to
take over another nation, and the troops killing that nation's innocent
citizens. This is what Saddam Hussein did in Kuwait in 1990. This
principle can be extended to apply to individuals as well as nations.
If a criminal threatens someone's life with a gun, then we are
justified in killing that criminal on the basis of self-defense, and
our courts definitely respect this argument as well. This
is also why policemen are justified in killing criminals when
the criminal has put someone else's life in danger, and he will not
submit to arrest.
- Capital punishment
Genesis 9:5-6 says, "And for your lifeblood I will surely demand an
accounting. I will demand an accounting from every animal. And from
each man, too, I will demand an accounting for the life of his fellow
man. Whoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed;
for in the image of God has God made man." This passage tells us that
God commands that murderers should be executed.
Again in this case, killing is not only justified, but commanded by
God. This passage can also be applied to the situations of warfare and
self-defense as well.
Owen Weber 2009