Before you read this article, know that I am not opening up this topic for discussion because it can get really skewed and heated (been there, done that) and I don’t want to spend the time debating it. I am posting this article to demonstrate what I believe Scripture says about the topics of war and killing, and to provide information for those who are berated for believing what I express here. People disagree, but please understand that it is not an issue of apostasy or heresy to disagree on this subject. That being said, I hope you will thoughtfully consider what I present here.
The 10 Commandments says, in KJV, “Thou shalt not kill.” This brings the following questions:
1. Does this mean capital punishment is wrong?
2. Does this mean all killing is wrong?
3. What about war?
Although the KJV translates the Hebrew word here as “kill,” the Hebrew word does not mean “kill” in general, but specifically means to “murder,” i.e., to kill someone with malicious intent with no justification. It does not mean to kill as punishment, nor does it mean killing animals, nor does it mean killing in self-defense. It only means “murder.” God does not contradict Himself, and in the same law where this command was given He gives instructions for capital punishment as well as for killing animals. Also, God leads His people into war throughout the O.T., so this could not be included in the term “kill” unless God contradicts Himself, which we know is impossible.
Capital punishment was ordained by God before the Old Covenant with Moses was established. He established this with Noah (Gen. 9:6) and all his descendants (which means everyone on earth). At that time the punishment of execution was reserved for murder. In the Law given to Israel through Moses, God prescribed execution for various heinous sins as a means of purifying the nation. These sins for which execution was mandated were in addition to the crime of murder. All the world, as descendants of Noah, still had that command of execution for murderers.
There is no place in the New Testament that removes or voids this command. In Rom. 13 Paul specifically states that the government’s duty is to be the servant of God bearing His wrath of punishment on wrong-doers, and then he states that government does not bear the sword for nothing. One final thought; although God ordained capital punishment, He also permitted grace to exempt those guilty of capital crimes. He even had mercy on David’s adultery and murder and allowed him to live. So, while execution is moral and legitimate as a form of punishment for murder, mercy may be warranted for extenuating circumstances.
What about self-defense? It was validated by God in the Law (Exod. 21:13; 22:2; Num. 35:22ff), but it was not commanded. Self-defense is when life - not material - is in jeopardy. Christ implied the disciples were to practice self-defense when he had them buy swords if they didn’t have them already (Luke 22:36-38). Although some people use Jesus’ command to “turn the other cheek” to claim we are not to defend ourselves, the real meaning of this is for non-defense of personal insult or non-life-threatening attacks. This “turning of the other cheek” can also be seen in Rom. 12:17-21 and 1 Pet. 3:9, and in 1 Corin. 6 in the discussion about lawsuits.
Theologians J.P. Moreland and Norman Geisler tell us that “to permit murder when one could have prevented it is morally wrong. To allow a rape when one could have hindered it is an evil. To watch an act of cruelty to children without trying to intervene is morally inexcusable. In brief, not resisting evil is an evil of omission, and an evil of omission can be just as evil as an evil of commission. Any man who refuses to protect his wife and children against a violent intruder fails them morally.”
Now we come to the issue of war. God used war often in the Old Testament, leading his people to war against infidels to cleanse the land. He also used other nations to war against Israel as punishment. In Revelation we see God using war also. So there is not an inherent problem with the use of war; the problem becomes what it is used for. Again, Rom. 13:1-7, as well as 1 Pet. 2:13-14, point out that the government was given the sword by God to punish wrong-doers. On the occasions the N.T. mentions military officials they all appear favorable (Matt. 8:5-13; Luke 3:14; Acts 10:1ff). No one told the soldiers to “go and sin no more,” but in Luke and Acts instructions were given on how to do right and to be acceptable to God in their military service.
Christians have historically been on both sides of the debate. However, in the 5th century the theory of a “just war” was developed, and this was refined in the 13th century. The just war theory of the 13th century had these requirements:
1. Must have been declared by a legitimate authority.
2. Have a just and grave cause, proportioned to the evils it brings about.
3. Only be undertaken after all means of peaceful solution of the conflict have been exhausted without success.
4. Have serious chances of success.
5. Be carried out with a right intention.
Later Christians added the following requirements:
1. Limited objectives
2. Proportionate means
3. Noncombatant immunity.
In his book, “Biblical Ethics,” Robertson McQuilkin has the following to say:
“So we have in the New Testament the combined affirmation of government force and the lack of condemnation of those exercising that authority, supporting the overall biblical distinction between government and the private individual and the legitimate response of each to evil. Government has a responsibility for restraining evil, protecting its citizens, and maintaining their welfare. If it has a responsibility to protect its citizens from criminals, does it not also have the responsibility to protect them from criminal nations? Christ’s teaching of nonresistance, if it is to be harmonized with the rest of biblical teaching on human authority, was not given to nations, police, or parents in their official capacities. Though the data of the New Testament on the issue of the Christian’s participation in war is not direct nor abundant, the basic principles are clear: To be godlike is to make a sacrificial, loving response to maintain a no vindictive, nonresistant attitude in all personal relationships when one’s own rights are at stake; and human government is responsible, with accountability to God, to use force when necessary to assure righteous behavior for its citizenry.”
We see from Scripture that war is not inherently wrong, but that it is a responsibility given to the government for protecting against evil.
What about the use of force? The following is from The Dust of Death by Os Guinness, which explains very well what should be the Christian point of view:
“Provided that there is a legitimate basis for its use and a vigilant precaution against its overreaction in practice, a qualified use of force is not only necessary but justifiable....Force...is the controlling discipline of truth, justice, and authority in action. Violence...can come from one of three directions - from the maintenance of authority without a legitimate basis, from the contravention of a legitimate authority, or from the injustice of a legitimate authority overreacting as it deals with opposition or violation....
[O]utside the Christian framework no such distinction can be better than arbitrary.... The ideal of justice within law can only be pursued with this distinction between force and violence kept carefully in mind. Without such distinction there can be no legitimate justification for authority or discipline of any kind, whether on a parental or on a presidential level.... There must be a legitimate basis for and a legitimate exercise of force. No force that does not issue from justice and that is not restrained by justice can achieve justice. Outside of this there is only violence.”