The Christian and Killing: Killing in Self Defense

By Ron Howes

The real burr under the saddle of the pacifist seems to be his unqualified position on the commandment “thou shalt not kill!” A number of years ago a somewhat misguided brother began telling brethren that non-Christians were not amenable to the law of God, so that, whatever marital state they were in (who’s wife shall she be in the resurrection?) was okay, once baptized. It did not take long for a few brethren with their heads screwed on straight to knock the props out from under this fragile fabrication. His proposition was quickly buried because:

(1) To become a Christian the alien must repent of sin (Acts 2:38). (2) To repent of sin you must have broken the law (Rom. 5:13). (3) Therefore, the alien is amenable to the law.

We hear from the scratching of other pens that “God is not a respecter of persons” and, His law applies to all! How then, can we say that the policeman’s act of killing a man robbing a store is not a sin, but it would be a sin for a Christian to be a policeman and do the same thing? That argument looks like this:

1. It’s a righteous act for a policeman to kill in the line of duty.

2. Christians may not under any circumstances kill.

3. Therefore, it Is a sin for a Christian to commit a righteous act.

I accuse my pacifist brethren of consistently applying a double standard here. But, we continue to hear, “Jesus said, thou shalt not kill!” And, while we agree that the United States is not Israel, we must compare apples with apples. The law God gave Israel is a model for civil government and stands as a near perfect system for administering the civil affairs of men. In a country without a standing police force or professional army from Moses to Saul, God allowed a limited and restricted amount of personal vengeance, vigilante style, in the “avenger of blood.”

We do not, however, confuse this with self defense. It is one thing to discover the body of a slain loved one and to pick up your hunting rifle and go looking for the killer, and a legitimate self defense situation. One is vengeance with malice, and the other merely self protection with fear as the motivating factor, not malice. Both God’s law and our civil law recognize and condone this kind of stop-gap justice.

To Kill Or Not to Kill

The God who said, “Thou shalt not kill” also said “if you kill the thief breaking in there shall be no bloodguiltiness for him” (Ex. 22:2). To date, no one has offered to debate whether nor not God’s definition of bloodguilt has changed from Old Testament to New Testament. A roof cave in caused by builder neglect could cause the execution of the builder if anyone died from the cave in, but to kill in self-defense carried no guilt under God’s application of “Thou shalt not kill.” Here’s the argument:

1. God said, “Thou shalt not kill” (Ex. 20:13).

2. Killing in self defense carried no guilt (Ex. 22:2).

3. Therefore, killing in self defense does not violate the law.

That inspiration has made a distinction between killing that carried bloodguilt and killing that is commanded, encouraged, or sanctioned with no bloodguilt is apparent in the original tongue. While a phoneus is certainly a killer, not all killing is phoneuo. The word inspiration chose to transmit the mind of God in Deut. 5, and Exodus 20, is rahtzach, the Hebrew term for murder, as opposed to accidental death, death in war, or the killing of animals.

This distinction is more closely seen when the student realizes that the God who said thou shalt not rahtzach, commanded the execution of a variety of criminals, including murderers, rapists, negligent contractors, and unyielding children. Was God commanding Israel to disobey the sixth commandment? Does God ever command us to sin?

Jesus Himself chose an equally distinctive term in saying thou shalt not phoneuo (Matt. 5:21). According to Strong, phoneuo means “to be a murderer,” (p. 76), according to Thayer (p. 657), it means “to commit murder” and W.E. Vine (p. 291) said, “Pheneuo, to murder, akin tophoneus, a murderer.” Need we also define what murder is!? Jesus nowhere circumvents the responsibility of the Christian to kill if necessary in the protection of his own life or family.

On another occasion Jesus commanded the disciples to arm for self-defense (Lk. 22:36). In the ensuing confrontation with the guards, he never condemned the use of the sword, or reviled the disciples for having with them that which he had commanded them to possess. The Lord who said “buy a sword” (Luke 22:36), said in reference to its use “suffer them thus far” (Luke 22:51). Let the interested reader ask himself the question, “How far, is thus far!” In answering that question, you will know under what circumstances Jesus will allow you to kill in defense of your family.

The scripture is detextualized and warped which says turn the other cheek, if it is so stretched to mean that if a thief kills your son, do not resist, let him rape your wife also; and, so are the fruits of the doctrine of nonresistance. “As much as in you is, live peaceably with all men” (Rom. 12:18).

Truth Magazine XXII: 15, pp. 247-248
April 13, 1978