What the Bible Says about Killing

Old Testament versus New Testament

February 16, 2022 by

Artwork by Sebastian Huessy

Ever since I became convinced that if I want to follow Christ I should sincerely love everyone and cannot harm anyone, I’ve received many questions. One of the most common questions I hear is, “How come there is so much bloodshed in the Old Testament and why did God sometimes command the Israelites to kill people?”

I’ve heard some pacifists say that God actually did not want those killings and the people of Israel misunderstood his commands, but that is simply not true. Our ideas should not change God’s Word, but God’s Word should change our ideas, and our lives. In the Old Testament, though God commanded “You shall not kill” (Exodus 20:13), he also gave certain specific commands to kill, and he was not pleased when the people did not keep his commands.

But death and bloodshed were not part of creation at the beginning. Before Adam sinned, there was no sickness, suffering, or death in the world; not even animals ate each other (Gen. 1:29–30). Because of sin, death came into the world and the shedding of blood became a part of creation. It is a punishment, the cost of sin. That is why God, who still loves us, mentions even in the Old Testament that he hates the shedding of blood, even though his justice requires it as a cost of sin. After the Fall he says, “Whoever sheds the blood of a human, by a human shall that person’s blood be shed; for in his own image God made humankind” (Gen. 9:6). Yet it is displeasing to him, as revealed in 1 Chronicles: “But the word of the Lord came to me, saying, ‘You have shed much blood and have waged great wars; you shall not build a house to my name, because you have shed so much blood in my sight on the earth. See, a son shall be born to you; he shall be a man of peace. I will give him peace from all his enemies on every side; for his name shall be Solomon, and I will give peace and quiet to Israel in his days’” (1 Chron. 22: 8–9).

Solomon’s temple foreshadows the house of Christ as a peaceable people, unspotted by bloodshed. Now, some have asked me, why does God contradict himself so sharply between the Old and New Testaments? Well, I don’t see any contradiction. As mentioned, when God created the world, it was perfect and there was no sin, wickedness, bloodshed, or death. After Adam sinned, God condemned all people to death. Death was ordained for creation because of our sin. But by his death Jesus paid the penalty that should have been ours, and removed the might and power of death and restored life in all who believe in his name. Whoever lives in this grace wants to live how God originally intended for us to live.

In Old Testament times, God commanded his people to love their friends and hate their enemies. Nevertheless, Christ commands that we love not only our friends but also our enemies. There are many other things that God ordained in the Old Testament, such as sacrifices and ritual laws, which have ceased in Christ. “Everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new!” (2 Cor. 5:17) What God has ordained in Christ will remain forever: love, peace, unity, and community. What God required because of our sin, such as killing, sacrifices, and revenge, comes to an end with Christ and will have no place in his kingdom.

Even in the Old Testament, the people of God did not march out to war unless there was an order from God to do so. When they failed to obey or marched out of their own free will, they did not succeed, but at times suffered great humiliation and loss. The people of the New Testament have no command from God to wage war; on the contrary, they are forbidden to do so. The Chronicle of the Hutterian Brethren uses 1 Corinthians 13 to describe why the sword and Christian love cannot mix together:

Love is patient. The sword is impatient. Love does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. The sword boasts its power. Love is not self-seeking. The sword wants to protect what’s his. Love is not easily angered. The sword is nothing but anger. Love keeps no record of wrongs. The sword keeps the records of wrongs and revenge.

Remember that Jesus is the Prince of Peace (Isaiah 9:6), and whoever follows him must be a follower of peace.

Hee Tae Kim lives at Bellvale, a Bruderhof in Chester, New York.


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