Are Christians Ever Justified to Kill?
Rev. Neil Steven Lawrence, M.Div.
There exists a common misconception that Christians should never defend themselves to the point of killing someone. Often Christians think responding in violence, even to defend themselves or an innocent person such as family or friend, is off limits. Is this really what the Bible teaches?
The church itself has faced 2000 years of persecution and tens of millions have died for the sake of Christ. In fact, more people are being persecuted and killed in this post-modern period than at any time in history. A study of persecution in the year 2019 found: “The overwhelming majority (80%) of persecuted religious believers are Christians.”1
“In the Middle East, the very survival of Christianity as a living religion is in doubt.” Though the Middle East is the birth place of Christianity and the place where its influence prevailed for 600 years after Christ ascended; starting in the 7th Century, Islam slaughtered millions of Christians, wiped tens of thousand of church buildings off the map, and displaced innocents, in its bloody quest to “protect Allah.” Now in Post-modern times a genocide has taken place. Just “a century ago, 20% of the region’s people were Christians; today the figure is below 5%.” There is also “a shocking increase in the persecution of Christians globally.” Christian persecution NGO Open Doors revealed in its 2019 World Watch List Report on anti-Christian oppression that “approximately 245 million Christians living in the top 50 countries suffer high levels of persecution or worse.” 2
Though it is heroic, and the tale of saints to be told around the Throne in our eternal reward with the Godhead while celebrating with the angels will be wonderful, one wonders if it is correct to assume Christians are not allowed to fight back? Is there no circumstance in which Christians are allowed to defend themselves, even to the point of killing? To answer this question, a distinction between kill and murder must be acknowledged. The Bible forbids us to murder, but it allows killing when necessary. Biblical justification for killing exists especially in a time of war or when protecting your family.
A large number of people believe the Christian worldview unequivocally condemns the use of deadly force. But Scripture delineates between killing and murdering. “You shall not kill” is not a command found in the Ten Commandments. a command found in the Ten Commandments. The command from scripture in the original language actually says, “You shall not murder” (Exodus 20:13). The Hebrew word for murder literally means literally means “the intentional, premeditated killing of another person with malice.”
Ironically, many people are familiar with this definition of murder because it is reflected in the Penal Codes of many countries. In the State of California, the Penal Code defines murder:
187. (a) Murder is the unlawful killing of a human being, or a fetus, with malice aforethought.
Malice is a form of evil intent that separates murder from killing.
Even today there are acceptable forms of killing that lack this kind of evil intent, and these forms of killing exist as exceptions in the murder laws of the United States. In California, a homicide is justified (according to Penal Code sections 187, 196 and 197) Even today there are acceptable forms of killing that lack this kind of evil intent, and these forms of killing exist as exceptions in the murder laws of the United States. In California, a homicide is justified (according to Penal Code sections 187, 196 and 197) if one of the following conditions is met:
1. A person kills someone accidentally
2. A person is trying to defend him or herself and prevent his or her own murder (self-defense)
3. A person is trying to prevent someone from entering his or her house to commit some violent felony
4. A person is trying to prevent the murder of someone else (protecting an innocent)
In all these situations, killing is actually legal and justifiable, and exceptions of this nature exist in the Penal Codes of every state in America. Even those who don’t accept the existence of God or the authority of the Bible recognize the necessity for laws like these—laws that allow for deadly force to be used to accomplish some greater good.
These exceptions are not the invention of modern society; but they come from ancient legal standards originating in the Bible. Amazingly, the Bible is the source for these modern laws, and the exceptions come straight from the pages of the Bible:
Accidental killing is not murder.
“Anyone who strikes a man and kills him shall surely be put to death. However, if he does not do it intentionally, but God lets it happen, he is to flee to a place I will designate.”
“But if without hostility someone suddenly shoves another or throws something at him unintentionally or, without seeing him, drops a stone on him that could kill him, and he dies, then since he was not his enemy and he did not intend to harm him, the assembly must judge between him and the avenger of blood according to these regulations. The assembly must protect the one accused of murder from the avenger of blood and send him back to the city of refuge to which he fled.”
Killing performed in self-defense (or in defense of one’s home) is not murder.
“If a thief is caught breaking in and is struck so that he dies, the defender is not guilty of bloodshed.”
Killing performed in an attempt to save the life of an innocent person is not murder:
“One day, after Moses had grown up, he went out to where his own people were and watched them at their hard labor. He saw an Egyptian beating a Hebrew, one of his own people. Glancing this way and that and seeing no one, he killed the Egyptian and hid him in the sand.” (God did not judge Moses as a murderer because he was protecting the life of the slave).
“When Abram heard that his relative had been taken captive, he called out the 318 trained men born in his household and went in pursuit as far as Dan. During the night Abram divided his men to attack them and he routed them, pursuing them as far as Hobah, north of Damascus. He recovered all the goods and brought back his relative Lot and his possessions, together with the women and the other people.” (God did not judge Abram as a murderer because he was protecting the life of Lot)
Killing becomes murder when (and only when) it is not properly justified. The justifications are clear: you can use the necessary force to protect your own life from a hostile aggressor, or to save the life of an innocent from an imminent, life-threatening danger. The justifications are clear: you can use the necessary force to protect your own life from a hostile aggressor, or to save the life of an innocent from an imminent, life-threatening danger. The difference between the legal or illegal use of deadly force is really a matter of motive, intent, and justification. These distinctions come straight from the pages of the Bible!
Cultural Distortion of Christian Values
Weakening of the moral fabric of any culture creates an atmosphere of defenselessness which eventually leads to an unwillingness to stand for what is righteous. If people, including Christians, cannot defend themselves, they will cease to defend others who are helpless (i.e. aborting innocent babies).
“The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil, is for good men to do nothing.” ― Edmund Burke
America has been poisoned by the “Hollywood version” of taking care of bad guys. You know how the predictable scenario plays out. The good guy beats the bad guy but doesn’t finish him off. Then, as the good guy is comforting the people he is protecting, the bad guy gets back up at the rear of the camera frame and tries to kill the good guy. It is at this point, the good guy is somehow “justified” to finish off the bad guy with a mortal blow. This namby-pamby type of “Hollywood” justice is not real justice. The good guy would have been legally justified to give the mortal blow right away.
What About the Christian View of War?
In World War 2 the US military discovered that only 15% of the guns were fired. People had an ingrained caution against killing. As I have explained, this is likely due to the confusion between the meaning of murder and kill. Afterwards, the military changed their training tactics to break down the aversion to killing.
As far as I am concerned, when it comes to shooting an enemy combatant, I would want to be a sniper in order to inflict maximum pain on the enemy in the hopes that it would drive them to make peace. We kill enemy combatants for a greater cause. It is never wise to fight a war without the absolute determination to win!
“Victory at all costs, victory in spite of all terror, victory however long and hard the road may be; for without victory, there is no survival.” – Sir Winston Churchill
With enemy combatants law must rule. If they are captured and taken out of combat, then grace can apply, unless they have committed a war crime. But while my enemy is in combat, seeking my death or even torture, the righteous cause I stand for must inspire me as a soldier and a Christian. Therefore, it is my duty to do whatever it takes. Never fight a war unless your goal is absolute victory.
If the enemy is trying to kill my family, friends, fellow soldiers, myself, and harm the country I am duty bound to protect, my righteous duty will be to utterly obliterate them with no hesitation! I’m not saying we go around warmongering. I am simply saying: when the time is required to fight, we should not shrink back. This same concept is related to the scriptural admonitions to be vigilant and strong.
“Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged. Be strong and courageous. This is what the Lord will do to all the enemies you are going to fight.” (Joshua 10:25)
Jesus is Our Example
Many people forget, Jesus is not only a Lamb who brought forgiveness, grace, and life to believers and to mankind; Jesus is also the Lion who will destroy evil and judge the dead. My model is Jesus Christ: King of Kings and Lord of Lords, who will utterly slaughter all the demon-crazed armies of the Anti-Christ and the Kings of the East in the Battle of Armageddon. This massive horde, will be the largest army ever assembled. Perhaps hundreds of millions of soldiers. Jesus does it all by Himself with the word of His mouth. Why? Because they will have killed as many as two-thirds of the Israelis (Zech.13:8), raped thousands of women, destroyed much of Israel, filled the land with their vile weapons, and surrounded Jerusalem. A third of the Jews in Jerusalem will be taken into captivity. Jesus destroys them and the blood will rise to the horses’ bridles for a span of 180 miles (1600 stadia). This will be the biggest battle slaughter in history!
This battle takes place at the Second Coming of Jesus (Rev.19:11-21; Zech.14). He will not use a gun. He will use the word of his mouth (Rev.19:15). I don’t believe it will be a gentle death either. It will be a slaughter; for the Bible says, “Blood will fill the entire valley of Armageddon up to the horses’ bridles” (Rev.14:20).
Brutal History of Mankind
As a life-long student of history, I have learned the shocking and sad tale that much of mankind’s “achievements” are told through wars. Without listing all the horrors, here are the “highlights”:
Genghis Khan and followers slaughtered 40 million people from China all the way into the lands of Eastern Europe.
Adolph Hitler’s godless National Socialist (NAZI) political ideology led to the death of civilians and war combatants totaling 48 million people in the European theater of World War 2.
Joseph Stalin’s godless Communist policies both before, during, and after World War 2 led to the slaughter of 15 to 20 million people. His reign of terror lasted thirty years from 1922 to 1953.
Mao Zedong’s godless Communist party leadership is responsible for the death of more than 60 million people. His reign of war, revolution, mismanagement, and terror lasted 41 years from 1935 to 1976.
Muhammad’s reign of terror (no pun intended) has lasted during the entire 1400 years of Jihad which Islam has spread over the world. Slaughter of unbelievers as a way of “protecting” Allah’s reputation has led to the annihilation of more than 270 million people. This includes:
a. 110 million African slaves who died in capture and transit,
b. 80 million Indians who died during the Muslim conquest of India,
c. tens of millions of Christians who died over the centuries of conquering and brutalizing Christian lands.
These mass murderers driven by demonically inspired ideology, caused others to murder more total victims in history. What they did was unjustifiable, and therefore, categorized as murder.
When Jesus, at the Battle of Armageddon slaughters the evil armies, He is totally justified since He is protecting the nation of Israel, which was Yahweh’s covenant promise. Jesus will bring judgement upon the evilness of mankind, which deserves death. In this one stroke Jesus justly kills more people than in any previous war in history. The grand distinction between mankind’s bloody reign of murder and what Jesus does, is: these evil armies are deserving of death. Jesus kills them; he does not murder them.
Carrying Your Cross is Not Reckless Suicide
Christianity stands unique as the most civilizing power in human history through: The Golden Rule, the Gospel of Jesus Christ, the implementation of the Kingdom of God in men’s hearts, and the “redemption and lift” impacting entire societies, nations and continents. It has effected the most powerful transformation upon humankind. This is “the most excellent way” we are to follow. (1 Cor.12:23-13:3)
But also realize, the sin principle remains at work in the world. The level of brutality toward innocent people, many of whom have been Christians, staggers the mind. The State does bear the sword for a reason (Romans 13:4). And Christians should not shrink back from the righteous cause of defending themselves and the innocent. This may require killing. It is never the preferred option. But we also are not required to be pigeon-holed into believing a concept concerning killing which is unscriptural. Remember: justified killing is not murder. Defending those we love is not a sin. Paul admonishes Christians to have the correct attitude in providing, protecting, and defending people we are entrusted to care for. Paul admonishes Christians to have the correct attitude in providing, protecting, and defending people we are entrusted to care for. “Anyone who does not provide for their relatives, and especially for their own household, has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.” (1 Tim. 5:8)
President Theodore Roosevelt said, “Walk softly, but carry a big stick.” He won several wars and maintained peace with this policy. President Reagan said, “Peace through strength.” He helped the forces of freedom win the Cold War with this stand.
When Hitler and his demon-inspired NAZI regime threatened the whole world, Christian people and nations, standing on Biblical principles, drove back and slaughtered the forces of evil and tyranny. Christians had to kill to survive and to protect the innocent.
“If you will not fight for right when you can easily win without bloodshed; if you will not fight when your victory will be sure and not too costly; you may come to the moment when you will have to fight with all odds against you and only a precarious chance of survival. There may be even a worse fate, you may have to fight when there is no hope of victory, because it is better to perish than to live as slaves.” – Sir Winston Churchill
Jesus, the Lion of the Tribe of Judah, is our great example. He knows how to deal with wicked people. Jesus, the Lion of the Tribe of Judah, is our great example. He knows how to deal with wicked people. “The rest were Jesus, the Lion of the Tribe of Judah, is our great example. He knows how to deal with wicked people. “The rest were killed with the sword coming out of the mouth of the rider on the horse, and all the birds gorged themselves on their flesh.” (Revelation 19:21)
1 (2019 Report Commissioned by the British Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt to Bishop Mounstephen, Anglican Bishop of Truro, https://christianpersecutionreview.org.uk/storage/2019/07/final-report-and-recommendations.pdf)
2 ( Ed Dr Matthew Rees, The Open Doors World Watch List Report 2019, ‘Key findings’, https://www.opendoorsuk.org /persecution/resources/wwl-advocacy-report-2019.pdf (accessed 19/3/19) )