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:
  1. 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 another, and 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."

  2. Self-defense

    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.

  3. 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