J. Warner Wallace: the difference between murder and killing in the Bible

Here’s former LAPD detective turned apologists J. Warner Wallace to explain what the Bible says about killing vs murder.


I occasionally present a talk on the nature of truth, and as part of this presentation, I discuss the existence of objective moral truth claims. I often ask my attendees if it is ever “OK” to kill someone. Every group typically contains a large number of people who believe the Christian worldview condemns the use of deadly force unilaterally. But the Scripture delineates a distinction between killing and murdering.  “You shall not kill” is actually not a command found in the Ten Commandments. The command from scripture in the original language actually says “You shall not murder” (Exodus 20:13). The Hebrew word for “murder” literally means “the intentional, premeditated killing of another person with malice.”

He then goes over the provisions governing murder in the laws of his home state of California.

And then this:

It’s interesting to note, however, these exceptions are not the invention of modern humans; they are simply a reflection of ancient Biblical Law. The Bible is the source for these modern laws and the exceptions come straight from the pages of scripture:

An accidental killing is not murder:

Exodus 21:12-13
Anyone who strikes a man and kills him shall surely be put to death. However, if he does not do it intentionally, but God lets it happen, he is to flee to a place I will designate.

Numbers 35:22-25
But if without hostility someone suddenly shoves another or throws something at him unintentionally or, without seeing him, drops a stone on him that could kill him, and he dies, then since he was not his enemy and he did not intend to harm him, the assembly must judge between him and the avenger of blood according to these regulations. The assembly must protect the one accused of murder from the avenger of blood and send him back to the city of refuge to which he fled.

A killing performed in self-defense (or in defense of one’s home) is not murder:

Exodus 22:2
If a thief is caught breaking in and is struck so that he dies, the defender is not guilty of bloodshed

A killing performed in an attempt to save the life of an innocent person is not murder:

Exodus 2:11-12
One day, after Moses had grown up, he went out to where his own people were and watched them at their hard labor. He saw an Egyptian beating a Hebrew, one of his own people. Glancing this way and that and seeing no one, he killed the Egyptian and hid him in the sand. (God did not judge Moses as a murderer because he was protecting the life of the slave)

Genesis 14:14-16
When Abram heard that his relative had been taken captive, he called out the 318 trained men born in his household and went in pursuit as far as Dan. During the night Abram divided his men to attack them and he routed them, pursuing them as far as Hobah, north of Damascus. He recovered all the goods and brought back his relative Lot and his possessions, together with the women and the other people. (God did not judge Abram as a murderer because he was protecting the life of Lot)

Killing becomes murder when (and only when) it is not properly justified, and the justifications are clear: you can use whatever force necessary to protect your own life from a hostile aggressor, or to save the life of an innocent from such imminent, life-threatening danger. The difference between the legal or illegal use of deadly force is really a matter of motiveintent and justification, and these distinctions come straight from the pages of Scripture.

Previously, I wrote a post featuring the famous theologian Wayne Grudem, where he takes a look at the concept of self-defense in the Bible and concludes that it is justified.

2 thoughts on “J. Warner Wallace: the difference between murder and killing in the Bible”

  1. Also of note is the logic of inalienable rights as it relates to self-defense. If we humans have an inalienable right to life, then we must, logically, have the right to protect that life. The right to self-defense is simply a logical conclusion from the right to life. The right to liberty, similarly, comes from the right to life and the right to self-defense. Anyone who abridges my liberty, holding me captive or forcing me to labor for their benefit rather than my own, has enough power over me to take my life from me. Thus, I am justified in fighting them, using deadly force if necessary, in order to free myself from slavery and protect my life. There can be no right to liberty without the right to self-defense.

    Of course, inalienable rights are ultimately deductions from Biblical principles – most notably that humans are the creations of God. Since God made us, we belong to him and He retains rights to his creation that no man can rightfully usurp. Thus, his right to us, His property, we see from our end as inalienable rights. We humans do not have a right to take the life of any human being (even our own) because that life does not belong to us, but to God. The rest of the inalienable rights are reasoned out from this basic starting point.


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