Is Murder ever Justified?


Is murder ever justified? What about self-defense? Exodus 20:13 says we should not "kill." What about abortionists. Shouldn't they be killed? I'm confused.


Thanks for your question.

Murder is never Justified:

The sixth commandment states, "You shall not murder" (Exod 20:13; Deut 5:17). What is murder? As a former homicide detective, I'm aware that different jurisdictions have various legal definitions of the crime of "murder." Rules of evidence may also vary from jurisdiction to jurisdiction. However, our goal here is to deal with the Bible's meaning.

Biblically part of the definition of murder is the unjustified slaying of a human being by a person who has not been authorized to do so as a covenantal agent. This is what most normally think of - the unjustified literal taking of another person's life - when discussing the sin of murder. However, the Bible's view of murder encompasses even a wider group of society; those that hate their brothers:

1 John 3:14-15 We know that we have passed out of death into life, because we love the brothers. Whoever does not love abides in death. Everyone who hates his brother is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life abiding in him.

While it is biblical to hate what God hates (Psa 5:4-6; 11:5-7; Prov 6:16-19, etc.), it is also scriptural to love whom God loves (1 John 2:7-11; 3:16; 4:7-8, 19, etc.). If one hates their brother, then they have already become like Cain (1 John 3:12); the first murderer (Gen 4:8; cf. Mat 5:21-26). Cain was unrepentant and went out from the presence of the Lord (Gen 4:16), hated righteousness and those that practiced it (1 John 3:12), and "the way of Cain" (Jude 1:11) - hatred, murder, idolatry, etc. - even led to the righteous judgment of Noah's Flood (Gen 6:5-7). See John 8:44.

All life is sacred. Early in redemptive history, God revealed that those who shed innocent blood must themselves be put to death (Gen 9:5-6). So, God the Creator of life (Gen 1:26-28; 2:22-24; 4:1, 25, et. al.) placed such a enormous value on human life that those who take it unjustly forfeit their own right to live!

However, the taking of another person's life is not always murder. We observe various examples of this in Scripture; such as an accidental death (Deut 19:1-10; Josh 20:1-9). Others include: (1) during wartime, a member of God's army (Num 1:22-46) could lawfully kill a designated enemy; (2) God also set up the position of a "blood avenger" (Num. 35); (3) members of the covenant community could participate in the execution of criminals convicted of a capital crime (Deut 17:6-7); (4) scripturally (but not necessarily in every jurisdiction today, Rom 13:1-7), a man as the covenantal head of his home can use lethal force to defend it, etc. See "Violent Resistance" below.

In each and every case, the authority to take a life under the Old Covenant was ordained by God and revealed in his law. In the New Covenant, we observe a similar pattern (i.e. Matt 15:18-19; Rom 13:9; Jas 2:11; 4:2; cf. Luke 22:36; Rom 13:1-7, etc.). To take the life of another outside of God's authority/law is considered murder.

All murder is inherently evil (Judges 20:4; Job 24:14; Psa 94:6; Isa 1:21; Hos 6:9). But, there are different types of murderers observed in Scripture: (1) repentant and (2) unrepentant. Repentant murderers would include those such as David (2 Sam 11:6-11; cf. Psa. 51) and the Apostle Paul (Acts 7:54-60; 8:1-5; 9:1-2; Gal 1:13; cf. Acts 9:3-9; 22:1-21; 1 Cor 15:1-11). Unrepentant murderers would include: (1) Cain (Gen 4:8), (2) Simeon and Levi (Gen 34:26), (3) Joab and Abishai (2 Sam 3:30; 1 Kings 2:5), (4) Rechab and Baanah (2 Sam 4:1-12), (5) Jezebel (1 Kings 18:13 ), and (6) Ahab (1 Kings 21:19), etc.

Although unrepentant murderers may use different weapons to display their sinful hatred (their fists, baseball bats, ropes, knives, guns, et. al.) they all have one thing in common - their final destination (Rev 21:8).

Do not Murder Abortionists:

If Christians look upon abortion as mass murder - having a greater loss of life than even the absolutely horrifying Holocaust - then why don't Christians kill all abortionists?

This is an important question. The answer is based upon the Just War Theory. There are many parameters to a Just War, a: (1) proper authority; (2) just cause; (3) right intention; (4) war as the only way to right the wrong; and (5) reasonable hope of success. While the Pro-Life community may meet parameters 1-3 rather easily in some instances, this still leaves points 4 and 5.

Most in the Pro-Life movement have not given up on peaceful means to stop abortion. We still march, hold rallies, and speak against it on a regular basis. Though very little appears to get done, in the U.S. we even vote for leaders that "claim" they are against abortion. So, there is still hope in using peaceful means. So, Just War then is not the only means to right the great horrific abomination of abortion. Moreover, history has proven that the killing of abortionists will not necessarily stop abortions. Others simply rise up, some go to another country, and some mothers have even been known to use a clothes hanger upon themselves in an attempt to murder their young. Unrepentant murderers keep inventing more evil ways to kill others (Rom 1:30; cf. Prov 6:14; 14:22; 24:8; Psa 36:4; 140:2; Mic 2:1). See "Is Abortion Murder?" below; it details a brief history and the methods of abortion.

So, both abortion and the killing of abortionists is murder.

Murder is condemned by God. While those that are enabled to genuinely repent will find mercy in Christ alone (2 Cor 7:10), unrepentant doctors, nurses, mothers, and others alike will all be judged. The 7 million + aborted babies of Planned Parenthood [1] will point thier finger and say, 'Thou art the one,' and the finger of God will appoint them to an eternal Hell (Matt 25:46). Perhaps in time, with a change of leadership, laws, firmer penalties (including death sentences for abortionists and their assistants), and more importantly, a move of the Holy Spirit as in the Great Awakening, all the parameters for a Just War will be met. Until that day, Christians should diligently continue to peacefully fight for each and every child's right to live.

For those considering an abortion it is not to late - STOP and TURN to Christ today (2 Tim 2:24-26) - and don't murder your child (Exod 20:13; 1 John 3:15). For those that have already had an abortion, if God gives you repentance (Psa. 51) then there is real mercy and forgiveness in Christ alone (John 1:29).

May God have mercy on us all.


[1] Ertelt, Steven. LifeNews "Cecile Richards: Planned Parenthood "Proudly" Kills 7 Million Babies in Abortions, "We're Just Getting Started" October 14, 2016.

Related Topics:

Sin had not reached its full measure?
Violent Resistance
Lessons on Repentance - Psalm 51
Is Assassination Ethical?
Praising Jael for Murder
Is Abortion Murder?

Answer by Dr. Joseph R. Nally, Jr.

Dr. Joseph R. Nally, Jr., D.D., M.Div. is the Theological Editor at Third Millennium Ministries (Thirdmill).