Human life is sacred – Christian teaching on killing
Christian teaching on killing begins with the first book of the Bible. Among all the beings described in the Genesis accounts of God’s creation, it is humanity that is singled out. “God created man in his image; in the divine image he created him; male and female he created them” (Gen 1:27). The exact meaning of “the divine image” is a mystery, yet human beings are clearly exalted and worthy of joy: “Lord, what is man that you care for him, mortal man that you keep him in mind? … With glory and honor you crowned him, giving him power over the works of your hands” (Psalm 8:5-7).
Humanity is given the status of ruler over the physical world: “And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth” (Gen 1:26).
Jesus tells us that love for our neighbor is a priority, second only to love of God. We are to forgive others in a radical way, showing incredible respect even for persons who hurt us. The Apostles shared this message widely: “With [the tongue] we bless the Lord and Father, and with it we curse human beings who are made in the image of God . . . This ought not be so, brothers” (James 3:9-10).
Christ loved us so much that He took on the human nature and condition, suffered, and died for us – even as we challenged Him with skepticism, hatred, and humiliation (Rom 5:6-8, Eph 2:4-5). In spite of our sinfulness, His new covenant opened a new relationship with God through forgiveness of our sin and the opportunity for eternal life in God’s presence.
Human beings are so special to God that even the most vulnerable and sinful of us enjoy God’s love. Jesus’ ministry emphasized the equal love bestowed on all persons, regardless of their past behavior (Mark 2:16), childhood (Mat 19:13-15), gender (John 4:9,27), illness or disability (Mat 20:29-34, Luke 17:11-19), wealth, social status, and even non-membership among the Jews (Mat 21:41-46).
Jesus taught that we enjoy God’s blessings in life. The opportunity for eternal life in the presence of God, the “Kingdom of God”, is the invaluable and central promise of Christ’s new covenant.
“All things came to be through him, and without him nothing came to be. What came to be through him was life, and this life was the light of the human race” (John 1:1-5).
“A thief comes only to steal and slaughter and destroy; I came so that they might have life and have it more abundantly” (John 10:10).
“And when this which is corruptible clothes itself with incorruptibility and this which is mortal clothes itself with immortality, then the word that is written shall come about. ‘Death is swallowed up in victory. Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?’” (Cor 15:54-58)
Although the Old Testament includes many accounts of killing others in war, there is also a consistent celebration and appreciation for life as God’s blessing. “I call heaven and earth today to witness against you: I have set before you life and death, the blessing and the curse. Choose life, then, that you and your descendants may live, by loving the LORD, your God, obeying his voice, and holding fast to him. For that will mean life for you, a long life for you to live on the land which the LORD swore to your ancestors, to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, to give to them” (Deut. 30:19-20).
We are called to defend and rescue innocent persons threatened with death. “Did you fail to rescue those who were being dragged off to death, those tottering, those near death, because you said, ‘We didn’t know about it’? Surely, the Searcher of hearts knows and will repay all according to their deeds” (Proverbs 24:11-12).
Murder is a grave sin – Christian teaching on killing
The command “You shall not kill” is the fifth or sixth item in the Ten Commandments (Exodus 20:2-17, Deuteronomy 5:6-21). It is the most fundamental basis for Christian teaching on killing.
The Ten Commandments are remarkable because the Bible clearly states that Moses received these moral rules directly from God. The Commandments are the only laws that the Bible indicates were “written with the finger of God” (Exodus 31:18). In the Deuteronomy account, God communicated these commandments again to the Jews who would finally reach the Promised Land.
For the Jewish people, including Jesus who was the ultimate fulfillment of God’s covenants with the Jews, the Ten Commandments were always relevant. All other Jewish laws were derived from them in some way.
The Ten Commandments have always been central to Christian morality. Jesus reiterated the importance of the Commandments in the Sermon on the Mount, especially the command against murder (Mat 19:16-19). In declaring love of God and love of neighbor as the first two commandments, Jesus summed up the core of the Law in order to guide Jews away from blind and hypocritical worship of the letter of the Law. Jesus nevertheless urged respect: “Don’t think that I came to destroy the law or the prophets. I didn’t come to destroy, but to fulfill” (Mat 5:17). Paul later showed deference to the Ten Commandments (Rom 13:8-10) and argued that they were consistent with Christ’s primary commandment to love God and neighbor.
As elaborated throughout the Old Testament, the Commandment against killing was intended to prohibit spilling of innocent blood. Jews believed that killing in war, self-defense, and punishment of criminals were not violations of the Commandment (Ex 22:1-3, 1 Kings 2:5-6, Lev 20:9-16).
Killing an innocent person will bring harsh punishment from God (Gen 4:10). Murderers who do not sincerely ask for forgiveness will not enter heaven (1 John 3:15, Rev 22:15). Christian teaching on killing does not leave any room for misinterpretation.
Such killing not only harms the victim and society, but also the earth itself (Num 35:33-34, Ezek 24:7, Isa 26:21). “The voice of your brother’s blood is crying to me from the ground. And now you are cursed from the ground, which has opened its mouth to receive your brother’s blood from your hand” (Gen 4:10-11). This suggests that murder of an innocent person has a cosmic effect beyond its personal and social consequences. The killer’s guilt and punishment will extend to descendants and the nation (Deut 21:8, 2 Kings 9:26, 2 Sam 3:28).
In the Old and New Testaments, killing is prohibited because a person is made in God’s image, so killing that person is extremely disrespectful to God. Also, “Whoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed, for God made man in his own image (Gen 9:6).
Note that the Bible does not prohibit killing merely because a person has particular capabilities or productive value to society. The inviolable dignity of a human being comes from God’s valuation, not through man’s.
Christian teaching on killing centers on love. Jesus condemns murder as one of the sins that arise from a lack of love for one’s neighbor. “For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false testimony, slander” (Mat 15:19). Murder therefore does not simply violate the Commandments and the Law, but the essential commandment of love taught by Jesus.
Jesus also drew a connection between killing and the devil. “He was a murderer from the beginning, and does not stand in the truth, because there is no truth in him” (John 8:44). Murder here is not just a sinful action, but the core of the devil’s identity. Respect for human life is the opposite of the devil’s pathetic challenge to God’s truth. The implication is that any murderer excludes himself or herself from participation in reality itself.