|Volume 19 Number 12 December 2017||
Thou Shalt Not Kill
Louis Rushmore, Editor
“Thou Shalt Not Kill” (Exodus 20:13). This very commandment in the Old Testament and its application in the New Testament has generated a lot of controversy in its interpretation and application in this New Testament dispensation. Thus, I want you to answer the following questions with relevant Scriptures especially from the New testament: (1) Is thou shalt not kill referring to murder or any type of killing including manslaughter, killing by accident, killing in self-defense, etc.? (2) Is there legal and lawful killing in this New Testament [dispensation]? (3) Are worldly governments justified if they mete out capital punishment to criminals, terrorists, murderers, etc.? (4) Can a Christian enlist in the army, police and other paramilitary agencies who are licensed by state governments to kill when necessary? (5) Can nations in this New Testament dispensation go to war? (6) Can Christians who are enlisted in the army fight for their countries during war? (7) Can a Christian kill in self-defense? These questions are very relevant to my spiritual growth and biblical understanding. Therefore, they demand your urgent response.
The word “kill” in Exodus 20:13 as it appears in the King James Version of the Bible, for instance, is translated as “murder” in several other translations (e.g., New King James, New International, English Standard Version, Young’s Literal Translation). Even in the Old Testament, there was a distinction between murder and other reasons for which someone might be killed. God provided six cities of refuge to which someone who had committed manslaughter or an accidental killing could flee from avengers (Numbers 35:6-15). Yet, murderers were to be executed (Numbers 35:16-21). Self-defense lacks premeditation and differs from murder, too (Numbers 35:22-24).
Likewise, in the New Testament, “kill” appears as “murder” in several passages found in the New King James, New International and English Standard versions (Matthew 5:21; Romans 13:9; 1 Timothy 1:9; James 2:11; 1 John 3:12). Clearly, government is authorized by God to exact capital punishment. Though God does not openly endorse any particular form of government, government exists by the will of God (Romans 13:1-7). One of the functions of government is to “bear the sword” (Romans 13:4)—a clear reference regarding an individual respecting capital punishment or in general warfare. First Peter 2:13-14 also notes divine approval of government and one’s responsibility to submit to it. In addition, these verses also address “punishment of evildoers.”
Brethren have mixed perspectives on the involvement of individual Christians being members of police and military forces, which could lead the child of God to participate in the death of others. In addition, some brethren have scruples against self-defense or the defense of others, such as their family members who may be attacked. However, most brethren throughout the world have no conscience against being policemen or soldiers as representatives of government, although they may be required to participate in the death of others while in the performance of their duties. Likewise, most brethren have no conscience against self-defense or the defense of others, though such may result in the death of others.
Anyone who has a conscience against participating in police or military forces, and a person who has a conscience against self-defense or the defense of others, ought not to violate his or her conscience (Romans 14:23). Since the New Testament does not precisely address a child of God’s participation in police or military forces, self-defense or the defense of others, conduct in these areas must be an individual decision based on one’s emotional dispensation and conscience. In addition, a conscientious objector should not despise fellow Christians who because of their mental disposition and conscience make a different decision for themselves in this matter.
The New Testament makes the same distinction, at least by implication in its reference to Old Testament murder, between unlawful, premeditated killing versus manslaughter, accidental killing, capital punishment and warfare. However, it is my personal judgment that the child of God would do well not to put himself or herself voluntarily in any situation where his or her decision regarding the taking of human life is circumvented by the decisions of others.