The Bible is harsh when it comes to condemning murder. In the Old Testament, the typical punishment for homicide is death.
Here’s Genesis 9:6
Whoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed, for God made man in his own image.
And Leviticus 24:17
Whoever takes a human life shall surely be put to death.
‘You shall not murder’ is also one of the ten commandments.
The New Testament is equally harsh, with several verses promising judgement and eternal wrath in the afterlife.
But what if the killing is justifiable, such as when it is done in self defence. Most countries offer legal protections for people who use reasonable force in self defence, including when it results in killing.
What You'll Learn Today
Does The Bible Approve Self Defense?
The Bible does not condemn self defense, and in some cases, it actually encourages readers to take reasonable measures to protect themselves and their property.
Here’s Jesus talking to his disciples about the difficult times ahead and advising them to be ready (Luke 22:36).
He said to them, “But now let the one who has a moneybag take it, and likewise a knapsack. And let the one who has no sword sell his cloak and buy one”.
Obviously, he wasn’t asking them to get ready to kill; he wanted them to be ready to defend themselves in the face of persecution.
In Exodus 22:2-3, God allows for self defence in certain circumstances.
If a thief is found breaking in and is struck so that he dies, there shall be no bloodguilt for him, but if the sun has risen on him, there shall be bloodguilt for him.
Self defence doesn’t just apply to yourself. It is also justifiable to defend the life and sanctity of other people. Here’s Psalms 82:4.
Rescue the weak and the needy; deliver them from the hand of the wicked.
Rescuing the weak and needy can sometimes require taking forceful defensive action if they are under attack.
In all the instances in the Bible where self defence is allowed, it’s within a very narrow context. If someone robs your house and you go out the next day and hurt or kill them, that’s vengeance and it is a sin.
Legitimate self defense only applies during an attack, and only covers the use of reasonable force.
If you, honestly, are in fear of your life and you happen to kill someone in self defense, then it’s not a sin. This is according to the Bible and church teachings.
What Does The Catholic Church Say About Self Defense?
Here’s what the Catechism of the Catholic Church has to say on self defense (CCC 2264).
Love toward oneself remains a fundamental principle of morality. Therefore it is legitimate to insist on respect for one’s own right to life. Someone who defends his life is not guilty of murder even if he is forced to deal his aggressor a lethal blow.
The Catechism further says that legitimate self defense is in fact an essential duty for anyone who holds responsibility for other people’s lives. Such as a parent and their children.
So, yes, you can kill in self defense but it should be a last resort.
The Bible, the Church and the laws of most countries all recognize that self defense is only legitimate, righteous or legal only if it involves the use of reasonable force.
That’s why killing in self defense should only be an action of last resort.
If there’s another way to stop the aggressor, like injuring them or scaring them away, then killing them would be a sin (and most likely illegal in your country).
CCC 2264: If a man in self-defense uses more than necessary violence, it will be unlawful: whereas if he repels force with moderation, his defense will be lawful.
The actions of the aggressor matter a great deal in determining what is reasonable force.
If someone is attacking you or someone else with the aim of causing grievous harm or even death, then killing them in self defense is justifiable.
But if you catch a thief getting away with your bike, killing them is not a reasonable response.
The context of the aggression is important in deciding what kind of self defense you should take. Using only reasonable force to stop the aggressor and protect yourself or other people keeps you from committing sin and may protect you in court.