August 22, 2004 Q & A

War and "You Shall Not Murder"


In your answer concerning "carry your cross," you say concerning abortion that "God made mankind in His own image and to take a human life is murder because the Commandment says 'You shall not murder.'" Doesn't the same apply to sending young men and women in the armed forces to kill and to die? Shouldn't we be opposed to war?


If I am following you correctly, you are asking whether the taking of life in war is murder, and if so whether Christians ought to oppose it.

The Bible does not teach us that all taking of human life is murder. Our Shorter Catechism sums up the Scriptures' teaching on the taking of human life in questions 68 and 69:

Q68: What is required in the Sixth Commandment?

A68: The Sixth Commandment requireth all lawful endeavours to preserve our own life, and the life of others.

Q69: What is forbidden in the Sixth Commandment?

A69: The Sixth Commandment forbiddeth the taking away of our own life, or the life of our neighbour unjustly, or whatsoever tendeth thereunto.

Note the words "lawful" in 68 and "unjustly" in 69. Human life, while precious to the Lord, is not an absolute value, and its preservation ought not overturn justice. It is to be preserved in accordance with God's Law, and if it is to be taken, it must be taken in accordance with God's Law. But it may be taken under certain circumstances.

In Genesis 9:6, God establishes capital punishment as a just punishment for murder: "Whoever sheds man's blood, by man his blood shall be shed; for in the image of God he made man."

In Romans 13:1-7, we are told that rulers (governments) "bear the sword" in order to execute God's wrath on the evildoer and to keep safe those who do good. Clearly, in the New Testament era during which we live, the power to use capital punishment, or to take human life more generally, is reserved to governments in accordance with God's Law in Scripture.

Abortion is wrong because it is taking human life unjustly. The aborted child has committed no crime which warrants death, and so abortion is murder. A murderer, on the other hand, has committed a crime warranting death, and so his execution (by the government) is not murder, but capital punishment.

It is therefore appropriate for governments to wage war ("bearing the sword" against foreign evildoers) if their intent is to protect the lives and preserve the peace of their own people. Thus, Christian members of the U.S. Congress are not obliged by their faith to oppose each and every war. If, however, they believe a particular war is being waged for reasons which are not in accord with God's Law, they would be obliged to oppose it.

I hope this clarifies what has thus far confused you. Please let me know if I can be of further help. I pray the Lord will lead you as you study His Word for His will in all things.



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