Q&A: Killing v. Murder, Rape, War, Capital Punishment…

David Burchard Christian Ethics Leave a Comment

How can it be possible to kill someone and it not be sin?

Are we ever biblically allowed to take justice into our own hands? For example, if I got raped and my husband wants to go hunt down the guy? Or is that only up to the State? What if it is her word against his?

Great questions. The Law forbids murder. It does not forbid killing. It actually requires it in particular cases.

Because God has made men as men, and essential to manhood is the duty to protect women, the Law requires your husband to use whatever force is necessary to protect you. He is to exhaust his resources to get that job done.

God created the State for a very specific job. It is only allowed to do the job God made it for, and it must do that job.

The job has two parts: punish bad guys/fight off foreign invaders and honor good guys. So, it is the God-given duty of the government to punish rapists. The accused must have a fair trial and there must be proof (at least two reliable witnesses counts). And the punishment must fit the crime.

In the case of rape, if the accused is convicted, he must be executed (a righteous kill). If somehow the rapist gets off, if there isn’t enough proof to get a conviction in court (the proof required for a conviction in court is more than simply, “I know it was him”) and he goes free, is your husband allowed to hunt him down and kill him? No. To do so would be seeking revenge, not justice. God will give out enough revenge. He is good at that. Your husband is supposed to entrust that job to God. That said, if the government is so perverted as to expressly protect a man it knows to be guilty of rape, and so be delegitimized in this central aspect of governance, then, I contend, the very real self and family governmental responsibilities of the man would come into play so as to legitimize a personal pursuit of proportionally punishing the rapist.

*There was legal revenge taking in Israel as part of the justice system, but I need to give more thought to that in order to understand what that means for today.*

If a woman is raped and she promptly goes to the police, assuming that she knows who raped her, her testimony and the DNA/other evidence is enough evidence (two witnesses, one victim and the witness of the physical evidence) to convict. But if, for whatever reason, it comes down to her word against his, it would be unjust for him to be convicted—even if he did it.

The reason is that God requires a high standard of proof in court so as to protect the innocent from being falsely convicted. That means that there will be guilty men who go free, but God will take care of them. It would be a worse crime for a man’s life to be taken or ruined because of false accusation than for a guilty man to go free, die, and go to hell.

The victim has to entrust herself to God in his justice and wisdom. She must ask God for strength to be free from bitterness. And she must work to enjoy all the gifts God gives her, not letting past hurt make her ungrateful to God, from whom all blessings flow.

As a Christian, how am I supposed to think about laws in the Old Testament?

In the garden of Eden, God made man in his image. What that means is that man is to be like God and live in this world for him. We are to resemble him and represent him/rule under him over creation.

We are required to do this according to the demands of his unchanging character. That means that all men everywhere are required, as soon as they exist, to live for God according to his Law. As long as man is man in this world and God is God over this world, the Law unchangingly tells us what God is like and how we should go.

Now, when God made Israel a nation, he gave that nation a specific set of laws, the “Mosaic Law”, the “Law of Moses”. These laws were to govern how Israel lived as a nation. Because these laws were righteous, they all were part of regulating how Israel observed God’s unchanging Law. That unchanging Law, which all men must obey, is stated for us in all the Ten Commandments, and summarized perfectly with love God and love your neighbor. So the Ten Commandments are both the Law which was over Adam and is over all mankind everywhere, and also the headings for all the other laws for Israel.

Because we are in this world under God, the Ten Commandments, the law of creation, the moral law, is still binding on us. We are required to obey it. As Christians, we have been converted; and so, we are no longer at war with this Law. It is now written on our hearts. We want to walk by it. We don’t want to oppose it or build our lives in rebellion to it. And we have the Holy Spirit to help us.

Some of the laws we find in the Old Testament, given to Israel, are case laws, showing us how God’s law, and its principles of justice, are to be applied in various contexts of the civil realm. For our present society to be ruled by justice, we must understand the principles set forth in Israel’s case laws and conform our civil laws to them.

Some of the laws given to Israel were particularly about their worship of God connected to things like the priesthood, the tabernacle, the temple, sacrifices, etc. All these things were shadows of the substance. They were all pictures pointing to what Jesus would do. Jesus came and did it, so their purpose ended with him. Those laws, those ceremonial laws, are no longer laws for us.

So the moral law always stands as law (the Ten Commandments). The moral law is to always rule the civil realm, with practical changes in case law reflective of contextual differences. And the ceremonial laws of the Old Testament have come to an end with the passing of the Old Covenant age. They are for us in that we learn about God and specifically about Christ through them. We learn about sin by studying them. We learn wisdom for life by meditating on them. All Scripture is profitable for us, even the Scripture verses about laws that no longer are laws for us.

What is the difference between murder and killing?

Murder is unjustified killing.

For example, a baby has not done anything deserving death at the hands of another human. So abortion, killing that baby, is murder. Executing a murderer is required by God. To do so is, therefore, justified and not murder. A soldier killing an enemy soldier is justified, so not murder.

You’ve explained that men are to step in, even kill, in order to protect family. Does it matter if the woman, and not the man, steps in and kills someone to protect the family?

This is a good question. The answer is yes, and no.

If the woman is alone, then it is sad that there was not a man to kill on her behalf. Men are supposed to kill the dragons in this world and save the princesses. Princesses shouldn’t have to kill dragons. It isn’t what they’re designed for. But, if worse comes to worse, the princess must defend herself. If a woman’s life is threatened, she has the God-given right to live, and so the God-given right to kill an attacker.

If there is a man present, but he is so cowardly that the woman is the one to step up and fight an attacker, then the man is horrendously sinning. If a husband tries to defend the family and is killed, and then the wife protects herself and is able to succeed, then he didn’t sin…it just didn’t go that well. If he doesn’t step up to protect his family and his wife does it for him, he is a fraud of a man.

What if the husband is too afraid to fight an attacker?

Men get afraid. But men are not allowed to give into fear. In fact, they have to be more afraid of failing to carry themselves with honor than they are afraid of getting hurt defending their own. Yes, in a home invasion, I’d be scared. But courage is not the absence of fear. It is doing what’s right in the face of fear.

Is capital punishment Biblical?

Yes, capital punishment is Biblical. Genesis 9:6 makes that explicit. If someone murders, the murderer must be executed. Capital punishment is also prescribed in the Bible when someone commits some other heinous crime against nature (rape, sodomy, etc.).

Any government that refuses to execute a murderer is a bad government, period. There is no capital punishment in the United Kingdom, for example, unless you kill the queen. That means that the UK government is a bad government.

Can women be in the military?

No. There should be no women in the military directly. The military is a sword, and the sword pertains to men. It is the man’s job to protect the woman and, if need be, die for her. This also means that women are excluded from service as medics.

It is a disgrace on mankind for women to fight in combat.

The West is, therefore, disgraced.

Women are free to work in the healing profession of mending the wounds of soldiers, but this should not be in the military, and so part of the sword (belonging to the man), but a service for the military. One of my all-time favorite legends is called St. George and the Dragon. Princess Una nurses St. George back to health before he kills the dragon, saving her and her father’s kingdom.

How is it ok for a soldier to kill an enemy soldier? Why is that not murder?

Included in the job God has given government, to punish bad guys, is fighting off bad guys that would try to do violence against the nation. The State is supposed to be the enemy not just of murderers and thieves, but also of armies that would try to invade. So a nation hires judges. It hires policemen. And it hires soldiers. When a man, and only a man, is hired as a soldier, it is his duty to fight and kill soldiers from the opposing military when he is sent to war.

Most of the time, the soldier does not have enough information to know whether or not the war was entered into for just reasons. That does not impact whether or not he is justified in killing the other soldier. When he knows for certain, when he has enough information to know that an order is unrighteous, only then can he disobey superior officers.

The Bible is full of war history (which is awesome). The whole thing justifies the above position, being that it is good for soldiers on the good side to kill soldiers on the bad side. And it isn’t murder when soldiers on the bad side kill soldiers on the good side. It’s just war.

Abraham’s army fights and kills Canaanites to rescue Lot. It is blessed by God.

David kills Goliath. Blessed by God.

David’s army fights Philistines and other enemy nations. Many are killed. It is approved.

Abner is the army general for the wrong side, the side against David, when David was ruling from Hebron and Saul’s weak son, Ishbosheth, was ruling from the north. Asahel, one of David’s men, chases Abner in a battle, trying to kill him. Abner kills Asahel and  is not counted as guilty of anything in the text (2 Samuel 2). Asahel’s brothers, Joab and Abishai, are mad at Abner for killing Asahel. They trick Abner and kill him. Both are counted as guilty of murder in the text.

When they trick and kill Abner, it wasn’t in battle. Abner was no longer on the enemy side. So, when killing happened in battle, it was just war. When it happened outside of battle, for wrong reasons and through deceit, it was murder.

Lastly, soldiers ask John the Baptist what they should do. John the Baptist doesn’t tell them to stop being soldiers and killing folks. That’s what he would say if their job was inescapably murderous. Instead, he tells them to not abuse their power to gain financially.

How can we know that God would be happy with that today?

God doesn’t change. So, if He is ok with something because of His character, or His unchanging Law, or because of how He has made the world or government or family, then He will always be ok with it.

The key when looking at something is asking, “Why is God ok with this? Why does God like this?” Knowing the answer will make it possible to think about application today.

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