Recently, SCM received a blog request answer to a question dealing with whether war is a sin according to the doctrine of the Bible. I decided to go a little further and to write a short research paper on the subject since I needed a good one for a seminary paper anyway. We pray that this research, although it has some loopholes, helps guide you to a Biblical conclusion for yourself. Just as with any decision or belief, we advise you to pray and seek God's guidance for your own conclusion. The one important aspect that we must keep in mind regarding war is that although the Israelites participated in killing and war, it was always under the order of God. When they did act out of God's will, they often were affected negatively by their actions. Although we no longer have a true theocratic government such as Israel that is commanded by God, we have to keep this thought on the forefront of our minds as we ponder these actions we see in the Bible. We also must consider that many of the regions and people that God commanded His people to destroy were not only wicked and sinful, but were also believed to have had an unclean bloodline.
Determining If Killing as a Part of War is a Sin According To Scripture
God revealed his Ten Commandments (Exod. 20:1-17 and Deut. 5:1-22 [KJV]) to the Israelites through Moses. The Law was given in for His people so that they could keep order, be protected, and allow them to get through life safely. Among the most well known of these commandments was the Sixth Commandment (Exod. 20:13 and Deut. 5:17 [KJV]) which states, “Thou shalt not kill”. Jesus Christ of Nazareth addressed how we must treat our neighbors as well as the political leaders regarding their authority and decisions. This work is an attempt on my part to explain the context of this Commandment and how Jesus must have viewed killing as a part of war according to His teachings in the New Testament scriptures.
The Definition of “Kill” In Exodus 20:13
To understand if killing is a sin as it relates to war, we must first define what it means to kill in the context of scripture. We must also understand what is meant by the context of these two scriptures as well. For instance,Walter Elwell explains the two scriptures as followed:
The wording of this commandment simply prohibits ‘killing; the meaning of the word, however, implies the prohibition of murder. The word used in the commandment is not related primarily to killing in warfare or to capital punsihmen; both those matters are deal with in other portions of Mosaic Law. The word could be used to designate both murder and manslaughter.
A number of Biblical scholars share the same view of the context of these scriptures which can be found in numerous Bible translations.. Even the the definition of “to murder, kill” is found in the Strong’s Concordance. Another scholar defines the term used in Exodus 20:13 as, “Murder, by these definitions, does not include sanctioned (legal) killing as in capital punishment, war, or self-defense.” It is Wilma Bailey’s argument in my opinion that “murder” is the proper word to place in the Sixth Commandment. Additionally, allow me to also point out the existence of “cities of refuge” as found in Joshua 20. If there were not any variation to the meaning of “kill” there would be no use for such “cities of refuge”. Laws were also established regarding the actual act of killing another person with violence as noted in Exodus 21:12 where it says, “He who strikes a man so that he dies shall surely be put to death.” This law clearly means that it is unlawful to strike a man intending to kill him in cold blood, futher supporting the term “murder” to be substituted for the word “kill” in the King James version of Exodus 20:13. Under such law, capital punishment was also allowed for violations of the most serious laws, thus permitting killing under the instruction of executing punishments and war.
 The word “kill” is given in Exodus 20:13 and Deuteronomy 5:17 in KJV, while the word murder is used in many newer versions such as the NIV.
 Walter Elwell, Bakers Evangelical Dictionary of Biblical Theology, Ten Commandments, #6 Prohibition of Murder (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2001), 1173.
 Edward W. Goodrick, The Strongest NIV Exhaustive Concordance, Hebrew to English (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1999), 1491.
 Wilma Bailer, “You Shall Not Kill: The meaning of RṢḤ (rtsh) in Exodus 20:13”, Encounter 65, no. 1 (2004): 41.
Examples Of War In The Old Testament
The Old Testament identifies countless cases of war and genocide. If God commanded that pacifism was His way, He would have commanded the Israelites to abstain from violence against their neighbors. We see extreme acts of war as in 1 Samuel 15:3, where God instructs Saul to “utterly destroy all that they have” in a battle. Case and point, 1 Samuel 17, a battle is being waged by God’s newly anointed king David on an innocent village of strangers. Mark Jones explains, “unlike many other encounters David had with the Philistines, this was not a military battle; it was a slaughter.” He goes on to say, “Old Testament war was often total war, meaning that anyone was fair game. There was no distinction between innocent civilians and soldiers.” So, it is clear that there was not only war, but also a form of totalitarianism. If God allowed these actions to take place, thus allowing these actions; how does these beliefs translate into the message of grace, mercy, and love of the New Testament?
What Jesus Has To Say Regarding War
Jesus has much to say regarding violence, war, and the act of killing in the New Testament that is to be applied to the operation of the Church until the rapture. Jesus commands us clearly to, “love your neighbor as yourself” (Matt. 22:36-40 [KJV]). If we loved our neighbors as ourselves, would we be willing to take their lives as our country does today? Laurie Johnston describes God’s mercy as the following:
Our experience of this mercy is, in itself, a testimony to the most remarkable way in which God has demonstrated love for enemies: God has shown mercy to us, despite the ways we have shown enmity toward God by sinning.
St. Augustine of Hippo turned away from the pacifism of the early church using what is referred to as the “just war theory”. This theory points out that war is justified by means of referencing biblical history, the conversion of civilians within a territory, or many other reasons one could use to portray themselves as the “righteous party” in the conflict. Whether there is scriptural justification for this theory is not clear. One thing we do know for sure is that God surely doesn’t change who he is (Mal 3:6 [NKJV]) and if He doesn’t change, neither does His view of elements such as laws and war. If we allow evil to run rampant and have its way, there would be no way to stop it without violence. Could Hitler have been defeated with pacifism? To call Jesus anti-violence would be to call Him anti-justice and I do not believe that is what He would stand for today.
The definition of the commandment as given in Exodus 20:13 and Deuteronomy 5:17 very specifically address the act of murder and not that of killing in the act of war. However, it is my belief that the act of killing in any fashion whether indirect, direct, war, pre-meditated does not come without consequence. As a member of law enforcement and a military family, I have seen first-hand the after effects of what happens to those who have killed another human being. The effects are enormous and many seek repentance/forgiveness regardless of the circumstances. I would highly advise that if a person has never been placed into the position to take another person’s life that they not pass judgment on those who have. It is not a decision that is without consequence or burden. It is for this reason that I pray none of us are ever placed into that position, but when faced with the threat of war or life threatening violence I must say that I am in support of whatever means that have to be used to defend ourselves. As evidenced throughout these given scriptures of the Bible and the academic sources, I must conclude that to kill in the act of war is not specifically a sin, but to commit pre-meditated or spontaneous murder is. It is clear that the Ten Commandments condemn anyone who commits murder under these pretenses as a sinner in need of redemption. Killing as a matter of war is a command from authority as well as an act of defense. Romans 13:1 (KJV) instructs us clearly to “be subject” to our “governing authorities”, as it is by His will that they are in place. If these authorities take us into battle, putting us into position to defend ourselves and take the life of another we must do so under their command. There is no clear violation of God’s commands as it pertains to actions taken as a part of war.
 Mark Jones, Criminals of The Bible: Twenty-Five Case Studies of Biblical Crimes and Outlaws. (Grand Haven, Michigan: Faith Walk Publishing, 2006), 91.
 Jones, Criminals of The Bible, 91.
 Ibid, 91.
 Laurie Johnston, “Love Your Enemies—Even in The Age of Terrorism?,” Political Theology 6 (January 2005): 88.
 Johnston, “Love Your Enemies”, 93
 righteous party: would be my term describing a party who has declared themselves to be taking action based on the blessing of God Himself or scripture.
 Ibid, 90.
Bailey, Wilma Ann. "'You shall not kill': the meaning of RṢḤ (rtsh) in Exodus 20:13." Encounter 65, no. 1 (2004 2004): 39-53. ATLA Religion Database with ATLASerials, EBSCOhost (accessed March 18, 2017).
Elwell, Walter, A. Bakers Evangelical Dictionary of Biblical Theology. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2001.
Goodrick, Edward W. The Strongest NIV Exhaustive Concordance. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan, 1999.
Johnston, Laurie. "LOVE YOUR ENEMIES"--EVEN IN THE AGE OF TERRORISM?." Political Theology 6, no. 1 (January 2005): 87-106. Religion and Philosophy Collection, EBSCOhost (accessed March 18, 2017).
Jones, Mark. Criminals Of The Bible: Twenty-Five Case Studies of Biblical Crimes and Outlaws. Grand Haven, Michigan: Faith Walk Publishing, 2006.
Kah-Jin Jeffrey, Kuan. "Biblical Interpretation and the Rhetoric of Violence and War." Asia Journal Of Theology 23, no. 2 (October 2009): 189-203. Religion and Philosophy Collection, EBSCOhost (accessed March 18, 2017).
Kok, Jacobus (Kobus) ed. "Killing." In The Oxford Encyclopedia of the Bible and Ethics. Oxford Biblical Studies Online, http://www.oxfordbiblicalstudies.com.lopes.idm.oclc.org/article/opr/t430/e183 (accessed 19-Mar-2017).
Lawrenz, Jason. "WHEN THOUGHTS KILL." Ignite Your Faith 67, no. 7 (Spring2009 2009): 17. Religion and Philosophy Collection, EBSCOhost (accessed March 18, 2017).
Metzger, Bruce M. Coogan, Michael D., Crenshaw, James L. ed. "Murder." In The Oxford Companion to the Bible.OxfordBiblicalStudiesOnline, http://www.oxfordbiblicalstudies.com.lopes.idm.oclc.org/article/opr/t120/e0504 (accessed 19-Mar-2017).
Ottati, Douglas F. "Reflections on the Sixth Commandment in a Time of War, Terror, Torture, Starvation, and Disease." Network News 25, no. 3 (Summer2005 2005): 21-26. Religion and Philosophy Collection, EBSCOhost (accessed March 18, 2017).
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