How does the Bible reconcile self defense with the Sixth Commandment? If you are a Christian like me, there is no doubt that this has crossed your mind more than once. Is self defense that results in the taking of another human life permissible? Even worse, is it sinful?
To answer this question, you must first realize and accept that the Sixth Commandment is the most commonly mistranslated verse in the entire Bible. Most of us know it as “Thou shall not kill,” but in actuality, it is translated as “Thou shall not murder.” Or even more simply, “Don’t murder.”
Reconciling Self Defense with the Sixth Commandment: The Hebrew Bible
Even as Christians, we must accept the Old Testament as written and translated by our Jewish ancestors. Taking out a single verse without referring to the whole of scripture is not only foolish but dangerous. Think about the Second Amendment for a minute. Those who focus on the word “militia” are fools; back then the word had a whole other meaning. Taking a look at the back writings of our American Founding Fathers eliminates all doubt as to what they meant when they included this in our Bill of Rights. Read my Second Amendment post to understand what I mean.
The Hebrews had no shortage for the word “kill,” each with a distinct meaning according to its context. I will not bore you with a history lesson but instead refer you to this site, if you are interested in reading more on this subject. The Rabbi that wrote this is truly noteworthy. And pro gun.
What you do need to know for this argument is that the Hebrew word “ratsach,” translated from “r-tz-ch,” is the Jewish word for malice murder. It is found throughout passages of the Bible in regards to unlawful killings, and also in the Hebrew Commandments. The Sixth Commandment in the Hebrew Bible simply reads, “Lo Ratsach,” which means “Don’t murder.”
The other Hebrew word used in the Bible for killing is “qatal.” It is found much more often, and found in context to animal killings, war, capital punishment, and accidental human killings.
Reconciling Self Defense with the Sixth Commandment: Old Testament Verses
God is very clear in both Testaments as to the difference between killing and murder. The first time we see this is in Exodus:
“If a thief is found breaking in and is so struck that he dies, there shall be no blood guilt for him. But if the sun has risen on him, there shall be bloodguilt on him.” (Exodus 22:2-3)
What God means by this is that if your only choice was to kill the intruder it is permissible in His eyes. However, if you could have knowingly resolved the situation without killing, you are guilty of murder.
The Book of Numbers gives us more clarification between killing and murder. God commanded Moses to have the Levites provide six cities of refuge scattered among their borders.
“These six cities shall be a place of refuge for Israelites and foreigners residing among them, so that anyone who has killed another accidentally can flee there.” (Numbers 15)
The entire Book of Numbers goes into great detail of what God considers lawful and unlawful killings. And also provides for a trial of the accused by his peers before judgment is passed. Again, it is unwise for us as Christians to dismiss the Old Testament. It gives us the back writings necessary to interpret the New Testament.
The final verse I am going to share, although there are countless others, is from my favorite book of the Old Testament.
“There is a time to kill, and a time to heal” (Ecclesiastes 3: 1,3)
I love the Book of Ecclesiastes. There is a time under the sun for everything, and that includes self defense.
Reconciling Self Defense with the Sixth Commandment: The New Testament
Christians are bound by the New Testament. So what does Jesus say about killing, murder, and self defense?
Jesus actually explains this quite well. Let’s start with The Sermon on the Mount.
“You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder,’ and whoever murders will be liable to judgment.” (Matthew: 5:21)
Jesus then goes on and says that murder comes from the heart and we should all take great care in repenting evil thoughts. God abhors not only murder, but the roots of murder: anger, envy, and vindictiveness. In my opinion, all of these abhorrent deeds indicate premeditation. Murder by definition is a premeditated killing. It is important to note that Jesus used the Hebrew word “ratsach” when speaking here, not “qatar.”
Later in Matthew, Jesus says:
“But understand this: If the owner of the house had known at what time of the night the thief was coming, he would have kept watch and would not have let his house be broken into.” (Matthew 42: 43)
This clearly indicates that the Lord allows us the right to protect ourselves and our belongings.
We are all aware of the “turn the other cheek” attitude Jesus preached to us. But in my opinion, that only refers to personal insults and minor transgressions. We should never turn to killing if there is another way to resolve an issue. There is a huge difference between self defense and retaliation.
The most debated verse in the New Testament regarding Jesus’s take on self defense is found in the Book of Luke. Jesus told this to his disciples just before being captured:
“But now if you have a purse, take it, and also a bag: and if you don’t have a sword, sell your cloak and buy one.” (Luke 22:36)
While it is true that this was done to fulfill prophecy, we cannot ignore the obvious here. Jesus gives consent to carry weapons.
Reconciling Self Defense with the Sixth Commandment: Why The Confusion?
Confusion comes with translation. Most of us read the King James Bible. Unfortunately, the KJV is the most mistranslated version from the original text. I personally do not like the KJV. Not only is it difficult to read but also difficult to interpret.
I’m not trying to get on a soapbox here, because debating which version of the Bible is best is a no win situation. And my interpretation of what I read may well be different than what you read. In any of the versions. That’s ok! I just hope that reconciling self defense with the Sixth Commandment is now more understandable to you.
If you feel your life or the life of someone else is in danger, don’t hesitate to pull the trigger. If you can find another way to solve the threat, do that instead. God knows the will in your heart.