Does The Bible Condemn A National Military, Capital Punishment, & Self Defense?

Does The Bible Condemn A National Military, Capital Punishment, & Self Defense?

By Brannon S. Howse

One of the Ten Commandments is, “Thou shall not murder”; thus it stands to reason that God is opposed to war and nations going to war. False. 

The Bible states that the government does not bear the sword in vain. Numerous verses throughout the Bible make it clear that capital punishment administered by the government, for those that have committed capital crimes, is Biblically acceptable. True.

The death penalty and waging war are two different aspects of one moral issue on which Christians are divided. We tend to think of them separately—we execute an individual for a crime or we go to war against a hostile nation—but from a Biblical standpoint, the two issues are closely related. 

A few well-meaning Christians are pacifists and do not believe God wants them in the military. In case of war, being in military service would inevitably involve directly or indirectly killing people. For that reason, the American government allows true pacifists to claim  “conscientious objector” status and avoid military service. Likewise, some serious Christians object to the death penalty, no matter what crime has been committed. 

While these sentiments may seem admirable, it is a Biblical fact that God gives authority to governments to administer justice by means of capital punishment for murder and other serious crimes. It is also true that God directs the fates of nations through the exercise of judgment and war on those who have committed national evils. 

Genesis recounts that God used capital punishment to judge a wicked and apostate world. He killed most of the earth’s population through a mega-flood, saving only Noah and his immediate family. Years later, in a precision strike, God blasted Sodom and Gomorrah for rampantly evil lifestyles.

In Exodus, God drowned Pharaoh’s army in the Red Sea to protect the Hebrews. Yet, never one to play favorites, He later broke open the ground and swallowed some Israelites who had been worshiping an idol and engaging in orgies.

God allows for killing another human being only in the cases of self-defense and capital punishment. Exodus 22:2, for instance, reads: “If the thief is found breaking in, and he is struck so that he dies, there shall be no guilt for his bloodshed.” And in Genesis 9:6 the responsibility for bringing justice to a victim of murder is given specifically to the assailant’s fellow human beings: “Whoever sheds man’s blood, by man his blood shall be shed; for in the image of God He made man.”

Some would argue that Jesus changed the way these things should be handled, but to show that capital punishment is still appropriate today, let’s look at the New Testament perspective. Romans 13:1-4 reads: 


Let every soul be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and the authorities that exist are appointed by God. Therefore whoever resists the authority resists the ordinance of God, and those who resist will bring judgment on themselves. For rulers are not a terror to good works, but to evil. Do you want to be unafraid of the authority? Do what is good, and you will have praise from the same. For he is God’s minister to you for good. But if you do evil, be afraid; for he does not bear the sword in vain; for he is God’s minister, an avenger to execute wrath on him who practices evil.


Paul is clear that the government has the God-given right to dispense justice, including capital punishment. In war, government will “carry the sword” to bring justice to those who have committed capital crimes. At times, it is also a form of national self-defense. 

When President Bush sent troops into Afghanistan to capture or destroy terrorists who were involved in killing more than 3,000 Americans on September 11, 2001, the president was Biblically justified. The commander-in-chief of the United States has the Biblical and constitutional authority to use the country’s military to defend America. He may kill those who seek to kill us and bring justice to those who have killed innocent people. When President Bush invoked the term “a just war” to describe the war on terror after 9/11, his thinking was consistent with a Biblical perspective. The president is given the power of the sword and with it the responsibility to use it Biblically. 

Justice is part of a Christian worldview, and there are times when bringing justice requires violence against individuals or nations that deserve such wrath. Bringing the sword to bear is a Biblical duty. 

Copyright 2006 ©Brannon Howse. This content is for Situation Room members and is not to be duplicated in any form or uploaded to other websites without the express written permission of Brannon Howse or his legally authorized representative.