Justifiable Homicide?

Ever since the shooting deaths of two abortionists, many pro-lifers are asking questions about the use of violence. A recent CBS-TV program, Eye-to-Eye, featured convicted murderer Paul Hill being interviewed by network anchorwoman Connie Chung. Throughout the interview, Paul Hill calmly and smugly defended his stance of “justifiable homicide” in the case of killing those who murder unborn children.

A sad commentary on the coverage of the Paul Hill trial is that none of the pro-life leaders interviewed by the national media have been able to put forth a consistently biblical stance against the use of violence in pro-life activism. An appeal to human reasoning and “common sense” is often utilized, but I have not yet heard or read a biblically-based condemnation of the actions of Paul Hill and those who call the killing of abortionists “justifiable homicide.”

Instead of skirting the central issue at hand in an attempt to distance themselves from murderers, pro-life leaders should raise legitimate questions: “Should Christians take a stand against violence in all circumstances?” — “Is it ever right to use deadly force in defense of life in the way some have done?”

From the outset, we should maintain that it is not within the jurisdiction of the Church to execute this type of justice even against violent offenders who violate the laws of God. Pro-life groups should never advocate this type of violence as Church-related organizations.

Some pro-life activists have recently become interested in covenantal theology and especially the area of theonomic ethics. This area of study will be valuable in helping to rid our nation of abortion. However, some have misapplied their knowledge in order to advocate what they call “justifiable homicide” in the shooting deaths of abortionists.

Covenantal Theology

Covenantal theology and theonomy deal, in part, with applying biblical law to reform our nation’s laws. A general principle of covenantal theology is that laws of the Old Testament, except where specifically changed or fulfilled by Jesus Christ or one of the Apostles in the New Testament, are still binding today – not only in the Church – but in governing all society.

Some examples of laws that have been changed or fulfilled are dietary laws, ceremonial laws and sacrificial laws. Covenantal theology is distinguished from the more popular (yet flawed) dispensational theology which views the Old Covenant Law as non-binding under the New Covenant.

Confusion among some novice covenantal theologians in the pro-life movement is occurring because, in the Old Testament, they see God’s people executing violence against God’s enemies. What they fail to understand here is that in some instances there is a discontinuity between the Old and New Covenants. The use of violence is an area in which there has been a “covenantal shift” or an area in which the law of God has taken a different tack under the New Covenant.

Jesus speaks in the Sermon on the Mount about not executing vengeance: “You have heard that it was said: ‘An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I say to you, do not resist him who is evil” (Matthew 5:38,39). Here Jesus is changing the law regarding individuals taking vengeance. The Apostle Paul plainly says: “The weapons of our warfare are not carnal” (2 Corinthians 10:4). Here Paul negates the responsibility of the Church or individuals wielding the sword in executing judgment. We may not do that today.

But that does not mean that the civil magistrate may not execute vengeance. The court systems can execute vengeance according to Romans 13:4. But the Church itself does not have the authority to execute vengeance on murderers or to act as a court of law in determining guilt. The Church may not, in fact, use violence to enforce the decrees of God. This is an example of a covenantal shift between the Old and New Covenants. In the New Covenant, the job of judging and executing vengeance on perpetrators of violence belongs to the state or the “civil sphere” of authority.

However, there are instances when individual responsibility to defend life becomes a separate issue. Under the Old Covenant, individuals could take vengeance if they or family members were harmed. Under the New Covenant, there are still instances when an individual may use violence in defending life. If someone breaks into a family’s home and is attempting to either molest or kill the wife or children, it is biblically justified that the head of the household should try to prevent that from happening and, if necessary, to kill the person attempting to do so (Exodus 22:2,3).

In this example, everything changes because we are talking about the “family sphere” of authority. If someone is being attacked inside the home and the only way to prevent a family member from dying or suffering serious injury is to kill the assailant, the defender is biblically justified in doing so.

According to Exodus 22:2,3, the defender is even biblically justified on the basis of property rights. If a thief is breaking into a house at night and the defender kills him, then there is no blood-guiltiness on the part of the defender. On the other hand, after the sun has risen there is blood-guiltiness. In other words, a family member cannot turn himself into vigilante and go out to hunt down and kill the guilty party.

The question some pro-lifers are asking is this: If abortion is the wanton taking of human life and we would defend life violently inside the home, then why would we not defend life violently in front of an abortion clinic? If we really believe that the fetus is indeed a child and it is being destroyed, then is it contrary to the law of God to use violence to protect it? These are valid questions and covenantal theology must give the answers.

There is a fundamental difference between the case of defending life within the household and an individual taking it upon himself to become jury, judge and executor in the case of a murder that is about to be committed or one that has already been committed through abortion. Under the New Covenant this authority belongs to the civil sphere of government only.

In Matthew 26:52, Peter strikes the ear of Malchus with the sword and Jesus rebukes him by saying, “He who lives by the sword shall die by the sword.” Jesus Christ was going to the Cross and He was suffering the greatest act of violence in the world. He was fulfilling the specific will of God. He was indicating that the kingdom of God and the plan of God is not advanced by violence. We don’t use violent warfare to advance the kingdom of God. The kingdom is advanced by the declaration of the Word of God.

But violence used in self-defense is a different matter. In Luke’s Gospel, in the same passage where Peter strikes the high priest’s servant, Jesus tells his disciples that if they had no sword they ought to sell their garment and buy one (Luke 22:36). Apparently, he was telling them that they were about to go out among their enemies and were to take some means of self defense. We can’t advance the kingdom by guns and knives, but if someone attacks us, it’s perfectly legitimate for us to defend ourselves. This is exactly what the Old Testament law teaches.

The covenantal view of authority includes individual, family, church and state. A covenantal interpretation of scripture gives us absolutely no circumstance in which an individual may be biblically justified in killing an abortionist in order to protect life. The strategy of the Church is to exhaust all other methods to stop abortion. There are always other means to stop an abortion from taking place besides taking a life. The main tactic is to use the weapons of spiritual warfare, such as prayer and preaching, to change the hearts and minds of those practicing child murder. The taking of a life is never a legitimate tactic. Subduing the murderer non-violently or persuading a mother not to enter an abortion clinic are legitimate tactics that may be used by Christians in spiritual warfare.

Pro-life groups, church-related organizations, and individuals who advocate violence against abortionists as a legitimate tactic for stopping child murder are lawless covenant-breakers. Those who advocate shooting abortionists as “justifiable homicide” are promoting murder in our society. Those individuals who shoot and kill abortionists are murderers. If found guilty, they should be executed for capital crimes according to the Law of God.

Covenantal Shift

This view is based on the fact that there has been a covenantal shift in how God’s justice is executed ever since Jesus Christ died on the cross and rose again. In the Old Covenant, God’s people warred according to the flesh, but in the New Covenant, we must war according to the Spirit.

Covenantal theology provides a model for our response to abortion. The Old Testament provides examples of what we must accomplish in the New Covenant. For example, natural Israel followed a man named Joshua into the promised land. The Church, or spiritual Israel, follows a man named Joshua, or Yeshua (Jesus), into the land of promise. Everything that the Israelites experienced in possessing the land of Canaan has a direct New Covenant application.

Israel was commanded to destroy the detestable idolatry of child sacrifice in the land of Canaan. In our day, the idolatry of child sacrifice is being accomplished through abortion. The Church is also commanded to drive this idolatry from the land. How do we accomplish this in light of the New Covenant? Should we, like the ancient Israel, begin to attack the individuals responsible for the idolatry? Again, these are questions that demand answers. They should not be lightly dismissed.

In Old Testament times, the Holy Spirit had not yet been given in the way that we experience Him today. Man had neither the anointing nor the authority to confront the demonic powers directly. There are, in fact, no examples of exorcism of demon spirits in the Old Testament. In order to defeat the forces of wickedness, there was no other solution except to destroy the people through whom those forces acted.

But with the coming of Jesus, the whole scenario changed. For the first time we see a man directly confronting the spiritual forces of darkness. In Luke 11:20, Jesus even defines this as one of the primary signs that the kingdom of God has come into this world: “But if I cast out demons by the finger of God, then the kingdom of God has come upon you.” God’s people can now direct their efforts to the real problem. Instead of destroying their human adversaries, they can love them and work for their salvation.

After Joshua led Israel into the promised land, they began to obey God’s commandment to destroy all idolatry. Often their obedience resulted in the destruction of entire cities. In the same way, God wants us to be just as ruthless as Joshua and his armies in destroying the forces of idolatry in the world. Only now, we are to direct our attention to the real enemy – the spiritual forces of wickedness in heavenly places. Jesus Christ commanded His disciples to go into all the world wrenching it from the control of Satan and his forces:

  • “All power and authority has been given to me in heaven and earth” (Matthew 28:18).
  • “And these signs will accompany those who have believed: in My name they will cast out demons” (Mark 16:17).
  • “For I say unto you, Among those that are born of women there is not a greater prophet than John the Baptist: But he that is least in the kingdom of God is greater than he” (Luke 7:28). Here, Jesus is saying that even the least Christian has more spiritual authority than an Old Testament prophet.
  • “He who believes in Me, the works that I do shall he do also; and greater works than these shall he do, because I go to the Father” (John 14:12).

We cannot use violence toward human beings in accomplishing our goal. But God still expects His Church to manifest the same authority and power as did Jesus Christ during His life on earth.

The “Sanctity of Life” View

Today there is a wide difference in what some pro-life activists are saying about the abortion issue and the biblical authority of the law of God. On either side, there are two extremes. On one side, there are a few who would advocate violence. On the other side, there are some who are so extreme in their sanctity of life view that they would deny that capital punishment by the state is a proper biblical punishment for the murderer.

We have already discussed the misuse of the covenantal law of God in advocating violence. Now let’s look at another error: the “sanctity of life” view based on the natural law theory introduced by the great Roman Catholic scholar Thomas Aquinas and developed by rationalist philosophers such as John Locke.

First, we need to define a term: natural law. This is the idea that there is inherent in all men the sense of good and evil. We all know deep down that murder is wrong; theft is wrong; adultery is wrong. Natural law is derived not from the Bible, but from principles of reason. Natural law is further distinguished from natural revelation, which Paul describes in Romans 1:18-21. Natural revelation testifies of the nature of God, His power and the nature of His creative acts. Man recognizes the existence of the power of God and His creative acts even without knowledge of the Bible.

The problem comes when people take the idea of natural revelation and try to build a system of natural law or a natural theology out of it. Although natural law theory has some strengths, it pales in comparison to a system of covenantal theology based on biblical law. The covenantal view is to affirm clearly the idea of natural revelation and natural law. We should never deny that. In fact, that is one of the bases on which the lost will be condemned when they stand before God one day (Rom. 1:18-21). But it is precisely for that reason why we can’t found a natural theology or a workable natural law theory – because unregenerate men in their depravity suppress the truth and hold it down in unrighteousness.

Some pro-lifers use the vague, amorphous idea of natural law in constructing an argument against abortion. In doing so, they fail to realize that most people will never agree with natural law no matter how much they know it. Our society is never going to assent to these truths. If we affirm the natural law view, we hold the idea that all people instinctively know that abortion is wrong. But will unconverted abortionists ever affirm that? Of course not!

Obviously, natural law teaches us that abortion is wrong. But this knowledge will not alleviate the evil of abortion. In most cases, knowing that abortion is murder will only sear the consciences of the unconverted. Such is the depravity of man. We would do well to remember that natural man is not “basically good,” but he is intrinsically evil.

Natural revelation alone is not sufficient. That is why the written Word of God was given. For example, natural revelation doesn’t teach us anything about salvation. We know about salvation only from the written Word of God. In the same way, the basis for civil government must be the written Word of God. Had man never sinned, the written law of God would never have been necessary. But because man sinned, then biblical revelation, as opposed to natural revelation, becomes necessary.

Therefore, the sanctity of life view is inferior to the covenantal view of Scripture. Sanctity of life ideology has been derived from the idea of the “natural law” – that people can see through natural revelation that human life is precious and therefore we ought to oppose abortion. For many years, Roman Catholics have held this view. When evangelicals finally got involved in the pro-life movement in the late 1970s (largely due to the influence of Francis Schaeffer), they began to see the terrible tragedy of abortion. The evangelicals quickly adopted the pro-life rhetoric of the existing Roman Catholic movement.

But “sanctity of life” is not the grounds on which we ought to oppose abortion. The reason why we ought to oppose abortion is not because human life is precious (although human life is precious in the eyes of God). The reason why we ought to oppose abortion is because taking an innocent human life violates the moral law of God. When we don’t recognize that, we fall into the trap of being against capital punishment and serving in the armed forces, because we think we need to have a consistent pro-life view. The problem comes when we don’t stand for the moral law of God. The sanctity of life view is not really a principled, long term strategy for dealing with the problem of abortion.

The “pro-law” view is more principled. The pro-law view comes from the covenantal applicability of the law of God. In the long run, this way of thinking is much more powerful. Our approach to the abortion issue should come from the law of God rather than from the vague, abstract idea of inalienable human rights and the sanctity of life.

This position does not negate the sanctity of life and inalienable human rights in any way. At the time of the Roe v. Wade decision, “sanctity of life” was the only prevalent view and it sustained the pro-life movement. But a long term, sustained approach is not going to come to the movement unless a pro-law view is adopted. This won’t require pro-lifers to sacrifice anything. We can do just what we are doing now and even more. But if one holds only to the sanctity of life view – that life is sacred – then not only can he become idolatrous, but he can also fall into the trap of thinking that capital punishment is wrong, when it is nonetheless mandated under certain circumstances by the law of God.

The confusion among pro-lifers at this juncture in time is a result of an instinctive emotional response. We know that abortion is wrong, but we don’t know what to do about it. The Bible gives us a blueprint. The blueprint is the written Word of God, not natural law.

Natural law theory – when applied to society – leaves the door open for human autonomy. Man stands up and decides that he is the one to decide what is right and wrong rather than looking at what the Word of God says. As a result of the “natural law” and “sanctity of life” worldviews within the pro-life movement, we have those who advocate “justifiable homicide” and those who are against capital punishment. The biblical “pro-law” view indicts what some call “justifiable homicide” and mandates the execution of murderers under proper biblical and civil authority.

Pro-life activists must not engage in violence. Those who do kill abortion doctors should be tried as murderers and executed if found guilty.

The pro-life movement must look to the horizon and try to envision broader reformation. We have to ask ourselves the question: What is our vision for America twenty, thirty, forty years from now? What will it look like? What type of society do we want our grandchildren to inherit?

This should be our vision: Not just the eradication of abortion, but a complete reformation of our culture according to biblical principles. A revival of the Law-Word of God will affect not just the Church, but it will transform our political system and restore our nation as a beacon of righteousness in the world.

Jay Rogers is director of The Forerunner. For the past six years, he has served as an editor and editorial consultant to Christian publications emphasizing reformation worldview, such as: The Forerunner, Predvestnik (the Russian language Forerunner), The Mandate, The Puritan Storm and The Champion.

1 Comment

Let me understand your point. Tiller claims to have killed 60,000 partially born babies – he refers to them as babies. At any stage, and particularly at that stage, I hope you would agree that they are humen beings? So apparently you are saying that if one man, whom you knew, killed 60,000 adult humen beings in the town in which you live, and the authorities were actually encouraging and financing these killings, that we should not do anything except pray and ask God to stop the killing? With that theology, you would fit in very well in the towns surrounding the nazi death camps.

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