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Is killing in combat murder?

by Stephen Davey

Cindy asks, “What does the Bible say about war and military combat and does that justify killing?”

Hi Cindy,

Thanks for your question.

The Bible teaches that the taking of life is not always murder. The Old Testament law mandates capital punishment, or the death penalty, for many types of sins of which a person could be found guilty. And even if a modern government today would not use the death penalty in an instance, for example, like striking or disrespecting a parent, it is impossible for us to say that any element of God’s law is unjust, for that would be contrary to His nature as God.

God also commanded Israel, under the leadership of military generals like Joshua or David, to conquer enemy nations and devote them to the sword.

In the New Testament, Paul told us in Romans 13 that God has given the government the right to
“bear the sword” as punishment for sin (Romans 13:4). When that happens, the people involved in carrying out that sentence are not guilty of murder. A judge who sentences someone to death is not guilty of murder, nor are the people tasked with carrying out that sentence.

War fits into that same category. When a soldier in combat is obeying orders and takes the life of an enemy soldier, he is not guilty of murder.

I do want to clarify that war does not justify all killing; it is possible for a soldier to commit murder. If a soldier, even under the direct order of a superior, were to willfully take the life of an innocent civilian, that is not just. That is a crime.

But regarding the specifics of your question, a solider is justified in engaging in military combat to defend their country, even when that involved taking the life of an enemy soldier.

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