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What Does the Bible Say about Killing?

As Christians, we should not participate in murderous acts or attitudes. Instead, we should uphold the Bible’s teaching of the sanctity of life and seek to glorify Christ in every circumstance.

What Does the Bible Say about Killing?

Like other topics in the Bible, the discussion of killing is complex and includes multiple different issues. Many Christians take the stance of pacificism, arguing that it is always wrong to kill another person.

Other believers assert that murder is wrong, but killing in self-defense and war is justified. When talking about the act of taking the life of another or even killing animals, we are entering into a multifaceted discussion.

In this article, I will cover what the Bible says about killing, God’s value of life, and other modern issues associated with murder. Believers should carefully study Scripture themselves to arrive at their conclusions about ethical issues, including killing in wars and other contexts.

Killing or Murder?

At the surface level, the issue of killing may seem self-explanatory. We are told not to kill in the Ten Commandments. However, the proper translation of the verse in Exodus 20:13 is “You shall not murder.”

The King James Version is best known for its insistence on “do not kill.” As the Amplified Bible includes, the Greek word carries the idea of “unjustified, deliberate homicide” (Exodus 20:13).

Intentionally taking the life of another human being is murder, which is condemned by the Lord. He also warns of the attitudes that lead toward murder, such as anger and hate (Genesis 4:6-7; Matthew 5:21-22; 1 John 3:12).

The very first murderer, Cain, killed his brother because of his jealousy and hatred. (Genesis 4:5). Murder is always connected to sinful motives and intentions.

Murdering another human being is an offense against God. He created all people in His image (Genesis 1:27). Because we are His image bearers, we act unnaturally when we take the life of another image bearer. Life is valuable and sacred.

When studying the issue of “killing,” we need to recognize that there is a difference between killing and murder. Murder is the intentional taking of another life.

However, the act of killing can include other things, such as fighting in a war and killing animals for food. The difference between these terms necessitates a closer look at “killing” in the Bible.

Killing and War in the Bible

Scripture does include the word “kill” and describes many people being killed. At times, people killed others accidentally.

The Lord did not view people who were killed accidentally as guilty of murder since He offered them cities of refuge to escape the avenger of blood (Exodus 21:13; Numbers 35:24-28).

Also, killing in self-defense is permitted since individuals are merely trying to protect themselves and others from harm. For instance, the Jews protected themselves from the Persians (Esther 8:11).

The Old Testament also includes multiple instances of the Israelites protecting themselves from enemy armies (Judges 7:13-25; 1 Samuel 30:1-31).

Like accidental killings and self-defense, God also permitted war at times. He commanded the Israelites to completely destroy the Canaanites and Amalekites (Deuteronomy 20:16-18; 1 Samuel 15:2-3).

These people worshiped false gods and had corrupt practices, which later negatively influenced the Israelites. The lists in the Mosaic Law denounced various sinful actions that had been done by the people of the land, including the Canaanites (Leviticus 18:1-3).

Such acts included child sacrifice (Leviticus 18:21), witchcraft (Leviticus 19:31), incest (Leviticus 18:6-17), and bestiality (Leviticus 18:23).

The Lord likely commanded the destruction of these people because of their corruption and opposition toward the Israelites.

However, even though we cannot understand all the reasons why God commanded the Israelites to wipe out entire people groups, we can trust that He is just. The Lord is always righteous and good (Psalm 11:7).

Christian scholars and theologians throughout time have argued for various approaches to war, including pacificism and the idea of a just war. Augustine of Hippo taught that believers could participate in a “just war.”

Some wars could be categorized as “just” if they are done purely in self-defense or to aid another country that is under attack or suffering under an oppressive regime.

However, Christians continue to debate what it means to have a “just war.” The theocracy of Israel is no longer in place, and God has not ordained or commanded war.

From a biblical perspective, we should strive for peace instead of conflict (Romans 12:17-19). Believers should not actively seek out opportunities for war.

Other Important Issues Related to Murder

1. Capital punishment. In the Old Testament, the Lord set in place capital punishment for murderers (Genesis 9:6; Leviticus 24:17). God values human life and takes murder seriously. Like the issue of war, capital punishment is a hotly debated issue among believers.

Regardless of which view we take about capital punishment, we should all affirm the sanctity of life. God made all people in His image and offers His gift of salvation to everyone.

2. Abortion. Even with the overturning of Roe v. Wade, women continue to have abortions. Taking the life of an unborn baby might not seem like the same thing as killing a grown human, but it is murder.

Unborn babies are image-bearers and have equal status as people (Exodus 21:22-23; Jeremiah 1:5).

Christians need to show love to both the unborn children and mothers by ministering to them. We should value all life, including those of unborn babies and the women who are struggling.

3. Infanticide. Connected to the issue of abortion is infanticide, which the world is attempting to normalize. These are sometimes called “after-birth” abortions when the baby has already been born.

Again, this would classify as murder. As believers, we should not support or participate in infanticide but instead seek to show people that there is value in human life.

4. Social cleansing. In some parts of the world, groups of people are killed because they are perceived as undesirable. Children who are homeless and live on the streets are often targeted and mercilessly murdered.

Elderly and disabled people are other victims of social cleansing. Believers need to work and support ministries in these countries, such as Colombia, to protect the vulnerable and deliver the transforming news of the gospel (Proverbs 31:8-9).

5. Suicide.Suicide is also a rampant issue across the world. Taking one’s own life is murder and should be discouraged.

We need biblically grounded, Christ-following counselors, therapists, and doctors who can help those who are struggling with thoughts of suicide due to mental illness.

Believers need to step in to help those who are hurting and seek to protect them against hurting themselves.

6. Euthanasia and physician-assisted suicide. In addition to the issues of abortion and suicide, euthanasia and physician-assisted suicide are other forms of murder. In these cases, people are being murdered under the guise of receiving medical assistance.

Helping people commit suicide is not the answer to mental illness. Instead, we should show Christ’s love and compassion to them while also providing them with therapy and psychiatric assistance.

Furthermore, there are other options for sick or elderly patients who are suffering. Murdering a patient under the pretense of “showing mercy” does not justify the act of taking another person’s life.

What about Killing Animals?

In this article, I have focused on human life. Many people wonder how we should approach the issue of killing animals. The Bible tells us that we can use animals for food (Genesis 9:3). Jesus declared that all food is clean (Mark 7:19; Acts 11:9).

Thus, killing an animal for food is not sinful. However, God cares about the proper treatment of animals, and we should too (Proverbs 12:10).

If we know that a company or farm mistreats the animals they use for meat, we should not support their business. Instead, we can invest in a company that treats animals well.

Some believers might choose to abstain from meat because of their freedom in Christ and conviction of conscience. There is nothing wrong with choosing to abstain from meat if the person does so for the Lord (Romans 14:6).

However, they should not make this a requirement for other believers nor use it as a cover-up for an eating disorder (Colossians 2:20-23; 1 Timothy 4:3).

Finally, there is the issue of hunting, which many people practice. Killing an animal for food is allowed, but the morals of sport hunting are questionable. Uselessly killing animals “for fun” displays a lack of value for life.

If the hunter is not going to use the animal for meat but merely as a trophy, this is a vain and wasteful act. Christians have freedom in Christ, but we need to treat nature with respect as wise stewards, not as tyrants.

Why Does This Matter?

Inevitably, we all will face decisions about participating in or supporting acts associated with killing, from choices about hunting to ethical decisions about capital punishment.

As Christians, we should not participate in murderous acts or attitudes. Instead, we should uphold the Bible’s teaching of the sanctity of life and seek to glorify Christ in every circumstance.

For further reading:

Does 'Thou Shalt Not Kill' Mean No Killing At All?

Why Did God Have to Give His People the 10 Commandments?

What Are the Seven Deadly Sins? A Biblical Guide

Photo Credit: ©iStock/Getty Images Plus/carlballou


Sophia Bricker is a freelance writer who enjoys researching and writing articles on biblical and theological topics. In addition to contributing articles about biblical questions as a contract writer, she has also written for Unlocked devotional. She holds a BA in Ministry, a MA in Ministry, and is currently pursuing an MFA in Creative Writing to develop her writing craft. As someone who is passionate about the Bible and faith in Jesus, her mission is to help others learn about Christ and glorify Him in her writing. When she isn’t busy studying or writing, Sophia enjoys spending time with family, reading, drawing, and gardening.