The Bible clearly teaches that murder is wrong, and that we should do what we can to protect, and preserve life. Life is a gift from God, and only God has the right to take a life. Even so, some people struggle with issues about self defense, or capital punishment (the death penalty). Should Christians support death in the form of capital punishment, or self defense? Does this transgress God’s laws of “Do not murder?” (Deuteronomy 5:17)
So What About the Death Penalty, Abortion, and Killing in Self Defense?
The important thing Christians should keep in mind is that when the Bible says “thou shalt not murder,” it is talking about personal pre-meditated murder, or personal vengeance. You can kill someone without murdering them, but you cannot murder someone without killing them.
Some cases of killing are acceptable and would not be considered a sin in God’s eyes: Self defense (protecting your own life), war, and the death penalty (capital punishment) are such cases. These circumstances are in effort to protect and preserve human life. In the case of self defense, a person is trying to preserve their own life. In a case of war, a nation is trying to preserve the life of afflicted people’s, or their own safety. And in the case of death penalty, a government is trying to protect citizens from a harmful person.
The same Moses who penned the law against killing, is the same man who wrote that a man who kills a thief in self defense was not guilty of sin, and should not be put to death himself:
If a thief be found breaking up, and be smitten that he die, there shall no blood be shed for him. If the sun be risen upon him, there shall be blood shed for him; for he should make full restitution; if he have nothing, then he shall be sold for his theft.
The same Moses who penned the law against killing, is the same man who also led the Israelites to war:
So Joshua did as Moses had said to him, and fought with Amalek: and Moses, Aaron, and Hur went up to the top of the hill.
The same Moses who penned God’s commandment against killing is also the same Moses who ordered that some of the wicked Israelites who worshipped a false God be put to death by stoning (a historical form of capital punishment/death penalty):
And Moses said unto the judges of Israel, Slay ye every one his men that were joined unto Baalpeor.
In the Bible, we see that self defense (even in the context of warning others) is such an important thing, that a watchmen who failed to warn people of coming armies would be put to death for failing to warn:
But if the watchman see the sword come, and blow not the trumpet, and the people be not warned; if the sword come, and take any person from among them, he is taken away in his iniquity; but his blood will I require at the watchman’s hand.
In the Book of Romans, the Apostle Paul tells us that God establishes governments specifically for the reason of ruling and governing societies. In fact, He says that the government doesn’t bear a sword for NO REASON, they will use it to keep peace and bring justice:
Let everyone be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God. Consequently, whoever rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves. For rulers hold no terror for those who do right, but for those who do wrong.
Do you want to be free from fear of the one in authority? Then do what is right and you will be commended. For the one in authority is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for rulers do not bear the sword for no reason. They are God’s servants, agents of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer. Therefore, it is necessary to submit to the authorities, not only because of possible punishment but also as a matter of conscience.
Romans 13:1-4 (Emphasis mine)
Conclusion: The Bible Teaches Against Personal Murder, Not Capital Punishment, War, or Self Defense
The Bible is very clear that Christians should not take personal vengeance, but to leave that to God to exercise His judgment. Christians should not murder (pre-meditated or as a “pay back”). This is what the Bible means in the context of “Thou shalt not murder.”
But the Bible clearly supports the killing of people(s) by government officials, in the context of self defense, or in the context of war. A true Christian should never try to prohibit God’s own laws, or the Bible’s teaching on things like capital punishment, self defense, or war. These things, as tragic is they may be, are ordained of God and taught in the scriptures for the well-being of all humanity.
As tragic as death is in any circumstance, did you know that you will die one day? The Bible teaches that it is appointed for all men to die, and after that, the face judgment. Are you saved of your sins? Could you stand before God with complete confidence that you’d get to heaven? Jesus died so that you may have life. If you haven’t trusted Christ as your savior, place your faith in Him today, and receive forgiveness for your sins when you confess them to God.