By Jon Kauffman
13 “Thou shalt not kill.” Exodus 20:13 KJV
Over the years when I have asked many people why they think violence by Christians is acceptable, often they say the proper translation for Exodus 20:13 is “Thou shalt not murder.”
Murder is a legal term. People who use this argument are implying that killing is wrong only if the earthly government ruling the area where they live makes that form of killing wrong. If the government tells us killing is OK at certain times, then it is OK at those times.
Translating Exodus 20:13
The plaque of the 10 Commandments on my wall says “Thou shalt not kill”. Some versions translate the verse as “Thou shalt not murder.” I do not know which is correct.
If “murder” is the correct translation, whose law has the authority to justify violence.
Jesus changed Moses’ law of “an eye for an eye” to “turn the other check.” Jesus demonstrated nonviolence. I find nothing in the teaching of Jesus to justify violence. It appears the teaching and commands of Jesus would require that we do not kill anyone.
Christians who approve of Violence
If we look at the actions of Christians who approve of violence, we see that they demonstrate by their actions their belief that the law of the country in which they live is the final determining factor on when we can accept violence by Christians.
For example, in World War I, many British and American Christians believed it was acceptable to kill German Christian soldiers and civilians. German Christians thought it was acceptable to kill British and American soldiers. These Christians felt violence was right because their respective government said it was right.
After a peace agreement between World War participants had been signed in 1918, Christians in the United States congress thought it was acceptable to kill Germans by starvation by refusing to sell them wheat. Because the US Congress refused to sell wheat to Germany, nearly a million Germans starved to death. The resulting animosity towards foreign powers opened the way for Hitler’s election.
In World War II many British and American Christians believed it was acceptable to kill German Christian soldiers and civilians. German Christians thought it was acceptable to kill British and American soldiers. Many German Christians also thought that it was acceptable to kill Jewish Civilians who were citizens of Germany. These Christians justified their violence because their countries had commanded them to kill.
During the Reformation in Europe, cities and states made laws outlawing certain theological stances and mandating the death penalty if someone believed in that theological stance. Many Christians felt it was acceptable to kill Christians who disagreed with them on theology because their cities or other legal jurisdictions had outlawed the disputed theological stance. The result was the bloody 30 years war. Many Christians killed Christians because their country told them to do so.
Who Is Our Authority?
The question is who has the authority to overturn the commands of Jesus? Did Hitler have the authority to command his troops to kill Americans in opposition the teaching and commands of Jesus? Did Congress have authority to command the US military to kill Germans in opposition to the teaching of Jesus? Do Church leaders have the authority to overturn the teachings of Jesus?
Some Catholics claim the Magisterium has that authority. Protestants often defer to theologians such as Augustine of Milan, Thomas Aquinas and Martin Luther. These people are human agents. Church leaders do not have the authority to change the teaching of Jesus.
Jesus is building his Kingdom on earth. We are members of that Kingdom and that Kingdom is a higher authority than earthly empires such as Rome, Great Britain and the United States.
If it were possible for the earthly kingdom to legitimately exercise the final authority, then military action, abortion and euthanasia would be OK if the government says it is OK.
I believe that man does not have authority to change the teaching and commands of Jesus. Jesus is our King, Our President, Our Prime Minister. Only Jesus has the authority to change the Law of Moses.
See reasons that others have given to support the use of violence by Christians: Reasons Christians Give to Say Violence by Christians is Legitimate
Copyright © 2020 by Jon Kauffman. Permission to reprint in whole or in part is gladly granted when used to further the Kingdom of God. Permission is gladly given to re-blog this post.