Questions like these usually don’t phase people in the secular world; in many cultures and in many individual viewpoints, killing is necessary during certain circumstances, whereas murder is unacceptable nearly every time. But the sticky side of that issue comes in how the individual defines the specific events that led to such an act in the first place. For instance, did someone barge into your house and hold your family at gun point while you slipped around behind him? Or did someone wander on your property by accident, find themselves in the wrong house, and beg for your mercy beforehand? Perception of the facts in that situation determines whether that individual and his peers believes he acted justly or unjustly.

Biblically speaking, many Christians seem to face similar issues, such as, what about Christians serving in the military during conflict or as a security guard for some company? Does the possibility of having to use deadly force for defense somehow justify killing of this kind? 

And what about war that was “waged on God’s behalf”? Surely the crusaders, many of whom believed they were instructed by God to do so, at least partially believed they were doing God’s work. After all, didn’t God command His people in the Old Testament to wage war on His behalf, even going so far as to tell the Israelites to “utterly destroy” the nations before them, and to “show them no favor” (Deut. 7:2)?

Issues like these tend to cloud the minds of someone who is honestly seeking to defend their home or country, and if left unchecked, can have dire consequences for himself and others. So is there a difference between killing and murder, and if so, where does the Bible draw the line between the two?

The first and most obvious discrepancy in the arguments above needs to be made to the citizen who believes their country “fights for God,” and that the way to please Him is to wage physical warfare. Certainly the people in the Old Testament fought for God in a very physical sense, but we no longer live under a theocracy that requires war to carry out God’s purpose (Josh. 1:6; 2 Sam. 3:1); rather, we live for a covenant where our struggle is “not against flesh and blood, but against the…spiritual forces of wickedness” (Eph. 6:12). To use God as a partner in your conquest for blood is unjust and blasphemous.

Next, the issue of soldiery comes up often, particularly during times of national defense. While it is true that early “Church fathers” prohibited military service – Tertullian agreed with Lactantius who wrote, “A just man may not be a soldier” – it must not be forgotten what social constructs went alongside such a decree. Alongside the act of killing (which they also found inconsistent with Jesus’ teachings), there was the secondary aspect of idolatry that went alongside being a soldier. Often, before embarking on campaigns, the soldiers would take part in pagan rituals designed to invoke the gods’ favor; it should go without saying that a Christian should have no part in that. One must also take into account the examples of Cornelius (Acts 10) and the other unnamed centurion (Matt. 8:10), both of whom were soldiers but not commanded to leave their posts (1 Cor. 7:20).

Not to mention the fact that some of the greatest characters in the Bible were men of war – Abraham, Solomon, Judges, etc – but the wars they fought were always against the enemies of God, not themselves. Take the account of David and Saul for instance, where David not only refused to assassinate him (1 Sam. 24) and even went so far as to punish the man who did (2 Sam. 1). In this is seen David’s pursuit of God’s orders, not his own.

Which brings us to the seminal idea in understanding God’s point that He laid down in the sixth commandment – “Thou shalt not murder” (Ex. 20:13) – and that is the intent behind such an act in the first place.  Proverbs 1:11 condemns those who “lie in wait for blood” (Prov. 1:18; Prov. 12:6; Micah 7:2), as they are fulfilling their own selfish desires by extinguishing the life of another; illustrations of such are seen in Cain vs. Abel, the tribes vs. the men of Jabesh Gilead in Judges 21, and other such stories. What is at stake here is a heart that looks forward to violence, something that the Lord hates (Prov. 6:17), regardless of the circumstance.

Coming full circle then, we can see how this heart could permeate any and all of the situations above. Is someone joining the military out of a duty to country (Rom. 13:1-2), or are they joining due to a deep seated desire to engage in combat and harm others? Is the person defending their home using reasonable force to protect his family (Luke 11:21), or is he acting in anger and hatred towards someone who has wronged him? These are questions left up to the heart that God will judge, but is best for the individual to check himself before that time.

Last modified: January 22, 2019