As a matter of fact, it’s not entirely accurate to say that “killing is killing.” Most modern translations of the Bible agree that Exodus 20:13 is better rendered, “You shall not murder” (see, for example, the NIV (1984), the NASB, and the New King James Version). From the biblical perspective, there are different kinds of killing, and not all of them can be classified as murder. Some are clearly legitimate. Others are morally offensive and plainly opposed to the will of God (i.e., “murderous”). You may think this is a purely academic distinction, but it isn’t. It’s actually quite important.
Sometimes God Himself kills or commands that killing be carried out. When this happens, we understand it as an expression of divine judgment. Even the most casual reader of the Bible knows this: “In the cities of these peoples that the Lord your God is giving you as an inheritance, you shall not leave alive anything that breathes. But you shall utterly destroy them … in order that they may not teach you to do according to all their detestable things which they have done for their gods, so that you would sin against the Lord your God” (Deuteronomy 20:16-18).
In meting out this kind of judgment, was God guilty of breaking His own law against murder? Absolutely not. As the Creator of life, He has the right and the prerogative both to give life and to take it away (Job 1:21).
On other occasions killing is carried out by the state or other human authorities. This point is more directly relevant to the question you’ve raised. Such killing is divinely authorized. It’s a way of protecting the weak and innocent from the strong and aggressive: “Whoever sheds man’s blood,” says Genesis 9:6. “by man his blood shall be shed; for in the image of God He made man.” “He who strikes a man so that he dies shall surely be put to death” (Exodus 21:12); “[The governing authority] is God’s minister to you for good. But if you do evil, be afraid; for he does not bear the sword in vain; for he is God’s minister, an avenger to execute wrath on him who practices evil” (Romans 13:4).
As we understand the biblical teaching, war-time killing belongs in this second category. It is not murder. It’s a necessary act carried out under the divinely instituted authority of the state. It’s calculated to ensure national security and promote the common good. This kind of killing is something very different from the killing of pre-born children. We would include here the tragic accidental deaths that come under the heading of so-called “collateral damage.”
We could expand on this theme at great length. Whether or not you would agree with our argument depends upon your interpretation of Romans 13:1-4 and related biblical passages. Basically, our position is in harmony with Augustine’s classic theory of the “just war.” We realize that there always have been and always will be endless debates about this theory. Christians often disagree about the best way to apply its principles to any particular human conflict. That doesn’t change the bottom line. As far as we are concerned, there are times when Christians are justified in wielding the sword on behalf of a righteous cause.
If you’d like to explore these concepts further, call us. Focus on the Family has a staff of pastoral counselors who would love to speak with you over the phone.
If a title is currently unavailable through Focus on the Family, we encourage you to use another retailer.
Christian Research Institute