The Bible has a lot to say about killing. Most of the time, people are being killed for no good reason at all. And most of the time, the Bible totally approves of it.
The biblical law is full of descriptions of all the animals God wants people to continually sacrifice to him. Never mind that God doesn’t need them because he doesn’t actually eat animals. And he doesn’t always allow other people to eat the sacrificed animals either, so those animals are being killed for nothing. And never mind that God says sacrificing a bull is like killing a human. God won’t let you come near him without an offering. And he won’t forgive you unless you shed blood for him. He likes the smell. Instead of helping diseased people, God demands a bunch of pointless bloodshed from them.
Even the forest of Lebanon isn’t big enough to provide enough firewood and animals to satisfy God’s desire for bloodshed. And when people don’t sacrifice quite as many animals as God would like, he accuses them of robbing him, and punishes them. It may be possible to make offerings to God without killing animals, but God likes it much better when you do kill animals. The Bible says killing animals is righteous, and not killing animals is evil.1 If you don’t kill them, God will.
Killing an animal can convince God not to punish people, regardless of whether they’re actually guilty or not. That means either that murderers can bribe God to ignore what they’ve done, or that the people in this scenario aren’t guilty, but God doesn’t care and would have killed them anyway, but then he decides not to kill them, because they killed a cow.
When two cows brought the lost ark of the covenant back to Israel, the Israelites were so grateful that they sacrificed the cows to God. Solomon wisely sacrificed too many animals to count. Even God sacrifices animals.2
Okay, suppose you don’t care about all that because you disagree with God and don’t think sacrificing a bull is like killing a human. What about human sacrifice, then? The Bible tends to describe sacrificing your sons and daughters as something that only evil people do. Something that God would never think of telling people to do.
But the Bible also says we should love each other the way God loved us… which was by sacrificing his son for us. So are we supposed to sacrifice our sons, too? If God didn’t want us to sacrifice our sons, why would he set such a bad example? And why would he tell his people to give him the firstborn of their sons just like they give him the firstborn of their animals?
The Bible says God did indeed command child sacrifice,3 and he rewarded Abraham for obediently attempting to sacrifice his son to him. And when Jephthah inadvertently made an idiotic conditional promise to sacrifice his daughter to God, God knew exactly how that would turn out… Yet instead of doing anything to stop him, God actively fulfilled the condition that would make Jephthah obligated to carry out the sacrifice.
Suicide and assisted suicide
A woman dropped a millstone on Abimelek’s head, but that didn’t quite kill him. He didn’t want people to think a woman had killed him, so he had his armor-bearer finish him off. Similarly, after a not-quite-successful suicide attempt, Saul asked someone else to put him out of his misery, and he did. But David didn’t think it was ever right to kill God’s chosen king, so he had that guy killed. Saul’s armor-bearer’s response to Saul’s death was to kill himself the same way Saul had tried to.
When Jonah told the sailors to throw him overboard, God showed that that was exactly what he wanted them to do (though he didn’t let Jonah actually die). Later, Jonah asked God to kill him, but God just tormented him instead.
The Bible has some terrible advice about love: It claims that you should lay down your life for others just like Jesus did, or else you don’t really love them.
The Bible fails to actually discourage suicide at all. It says the only kind of sins you can commit against your own body are sexual sins. So I guess suicide wouldn’t be considered a “sin” (unless you count deaths from dangerous fetish activities).
God commanded that anyone who kills a human is to be killed.5 And also that they don’t have to be killed if it was an accident. In that case, you’re safe… as long as you’re willing to be imprisoned in a certain city for as long as some unrelated person lives. But if you leave that city, then God thinks it’s okay for someone to kill you in spite of your innocence.
If someone breaks into your house at night, it says it’s okay for you to kill them. But if you do the same thing during the day, you’re a murderer and now you have to be killed. God also said anyone who kills an animal that belongs to someone else has to “give life for life“… but he failed to clarify whose life he meant.
The biblical law requires the death penalty not just for things like murder, but for all kinds of crimes, many of them quite petty and harmless. God thinks people should be killed for “cursing” their parents, for practicing “sorcery“, for doing any work on the wrong day of the week (or year), for breaking his stupid, unreasonable, arbitrary “uncleanness” rules, for doing anything else God thinks is evil, and for criticizing the guy who came up with all these dumb rules.6
God’s law says people have to be killed if they make sacrifices to the wrong god. Or if they don’t worship other gods, but they encourage other people to. Or if they sacrifice to the right God, but in the wrong place.
God threatened to kill people if any of them went near his tent when they weren’t from the right tribe. Or when they weren’t wearing the right underwear. Or when they hadn’t washed their feet. He said they would also die if they drank the wrong beverages while they were there. And if they entered the wrong parts of God’s house at the wrong time. And if they touched or even looked at God’s things. He also required Aaron’s sons to stay at the entrance of his tent for a week or die.
If you prophesy things that God didn’t say, you have to die.7 But that rule might be a bit hard to enforce, because anyone who questions authorities who claim to speak for God also has to die. Eventually, God seems to have decided that people should kill not just false prophets, but all prophets.
The Bible requires that both of the people who commit an act of adultery be put to death. Adultery is bad because it threatens your ability to stay together with your spouse, right? So killing your spouse seems to me like it would be kind of counterproductive.
God says if a woman is engaged to one man, and then no one hears her scream when another man has sex with her, she has to be killed. Because if she didn’t scream, she must have been intentionally cheating, right? It looks like it didn’t occur to “God” that there are plenty of reasons a woman might not scream when she’s raped,8 and plenty of reasons no one might be able to hear her if she does scream, and plenty of reasons they might not do anything about it even if they do hear her. If any of those things goes wrong, God thinks you should just blame the woman, and kill her.
The Bible says a man should be killed if he has gay sex. And a woman should be killed if she’s promiscuous while she’s living in her father’s house. Or if she’s both a prostitute and a priest’s daughter.
It says if a boy fails to obey his parents, they are to accuse him of being a drunkard and stuff (never mind whether that accusation is true or not), and then they are to have him stoned to death.
When Moses went up on a mountain so God could tell him these rules, God said anyone else who touched the mountain without permission would have to be stoned or shot with arrows.
Paul claims that God also decreed that people deserve death for things like envy, deceit, gossip, insolence, arrogance, and not understanding things. Though I don’t think the Old Testament ever actually says those are capital crimes.
A king of Babylon decreed that anyone who didn’t worship his giant statue would be thrown into a furnace. Another king of Babylon decreed that anyone who prayed to anyone but him would be thrown into the lions’ den. He also threw to the lions people who accused others of breaking that law.
A king of Persia decreed that anyone who interfered with the Jews rebuilding the temple would be impaled on a beam taken from their house. Another king of Persia said anyone in his empire who didn’t obey the Jewish laws, whether they were Jewish themselves or not, could be punished by death. (This is supposed to be a good thing.)
God caused some innocent prison guards to be wrongly executed, by helping a prisoner miraculously escape and then not explaining to the king that it wasn’t the guards’ fault.
The first murderer, according to the Bible, was Cain. God punished him, but then also kind of rewarded him by personally protecting him for the rest of his life. As a result of God’s mixed messages here, other people were emboldened to murder, since they figured God would protect them too.
God never outlawed cannibalism, but he did repeatedly threaten to punish his people by forcing them to eat their own children. Which he did. He also sent people from other nations to eat the Israelites’ children.9 The vision of Revelation includes a prostitute being burned and eaten by a beast and by its horns, which are all actually kings.
One time when the Israelites sinned, God started killing them, and he said he would stop if Moses killed all their leaders.10 But what actually turned out to make God stop being angry was when somebody drove a spear through a man and a woman while they were having sex. That pleased God so much that he made a covenant of peace with the guy who did it, and with all his descendants.
In the most pointlessly evil story in the Bible, a man’s house is surrounded by rapists, so the man and his guest decide to send the guest’s girlfriend out to get gang-raped to death. Then the guest chops her up into a dozen pieces and has them distributed all over the country, which eventually leads to an entire tribe of Israel being mostly killed off.
Samson’s father-in-law took his wife away due to a misunderstanding, and Samson reacted to that by burning up some other people’s crops. And then those people responded by murdering Samson’s ex-wife and her father.
Two men murdered Saul’s innocent son in his bed because they thought David would appreciate it. David had them executed. After David’s commander Joab killed one of David’s own sons and then scolded David for mourning over him, David tried to have Joab replaced. But then Joab murdered his replacement, so David let Joab keep his job.
Solomon said there are times when it’s right to kill. He thought it was wise to drive a threshing wheel over people he considered wicked. He had his brother killed for asking to be allowed to marry their father’s platonic bedmate, because Solomon thought that meant he was trying to become king.11 Solomon also had someone killed for leaving the city after he told him not to. He claimed that this was also a divine punishment for criticizing Solomon’s father.
A prophet told Jehu he would be king of Israel, so Jehu murdered the existing king of Israel. And the king of Judah. And the wife of a former king of Israel. And he murdered a whole lot of other people as well. God was pleased. Killing the king of Judah too was God’s idea.
God’s priest convinced the Israelites to stop worshipping Baal, so they murdered Baal’s priest. Only one queen ever ruled over either the kingdom of Israel or the kingdom of Judah. She wasn’t very popular, so God’s priest got the people to kill her, along with anyone who liked her. Ahaz king of Judah was evil, so an Israelite killed his son and some of his officials. Jehoiakim king of Judah had a prophet killed for what he said.
When the sexy daughter of Herodias12 convinced Herod to promise to give her whatever she asked for, her mother Herodias got her to ask for John the Baptist’s head on a platter. So Herod had John beheaded, even though he was distressed to have to do that… even though that was exactly what he had wanted to do anyway. One of Herodias’s brothers (who, like way too many people in their family, was also named Herod) later started persecuting Christians, and had one of Jesus’s disciples killed.
Jesus vaguely predicted that children would have their parents put to death, though he didn’t say when or who or why or if it would be legal or justified or not. In any case, people were going to be killed because of Jesus. The book of Hebrews says some people who had faith were stoned, sawed in two, or killed by the sword. But again, there’s so little detail that I have no idea who it’s talking about, what they were killed for, whether it was legal or justifiable, or what the point of mentioning it was.
When a Christian named Stephen was falsely accused of opposing the Jewish Law, he opted not to defend himself against that accusation. Instead, he recited a bunch of irrelevant Bible stories and insulted and falsely accused the Jews, until the Jewish religious leaders were so enraged that they murdered him.
Revelation predicts that even after wiping out large portions of humanity, God will fail to get people to repent of their murders. (Maybe he should try setting a better example.) It also says he’s going to send two horrible fire-breathing prophets to torment everyone for several years, and they will burn to death anyone who opposes them.
Job said God destroys the blameless along with the wicked, and mocks the despair of the innocent as they’re dying. God starves people and gets them killed with the sword, not because they’re wicked, but just because they happen to have wicked parents. He also kills people for being good at complimenting people. God confirmed that what Job said about him was true.
With barely any warning, God killed Lot’s wife for the completely harmless action of looking at something.13 He killed Onan for refusing to get his brother’s wife pregnant. He killed Naomi’s husband and their sons, too. Another time, God killed a boy who was the only good person in his family. God also killed the oldest and youngest sons of the man who rebuilt Jericho.
God burned some of Aaron’s sons to death for making an offering to him, because they used “unauthorized fire“, whatever that is. And then he threatened to kill Aaron and his remaining sons if they mourned for them. Similarly, when God murdered Ezekiel’s wife just to try to make a point (which wasn’t even effective), he ordered Ezekiel not to mourn for her.
God once killed somebody for trying to protect the ark of the covenant. Another time, God sent a lion to kill someone for being so foolish as to trust the words of a prophet. He also sent a lion to kill someone for refusing to injure a prophet.14
David wanted to have Uriah’s wife in addition to the wives he already had. So he arranged to intentionally get Uriah killed in battle. God responded by torturing and killing David’s baby, and then making sure the rest of his descendants would constantly be violently attacked as well.
God killed Jeroboam, the man he had chosen to be king of most of Israel when he decided to take the kingdom away from David’s descendants just two generations after he had led David to believe that his descendants would rule over Israel forever.
When people were resorting to eating their own children because of a famine God had caused, and then a prophet said food would be easy to get again in just one more day, an officer said he doubted it. God didn’t like that, so he made sure that officer got trampled to death.
God killed a king who he considered good, just because he didn’t want that king to see what God was about to do to Judah. God thinks killing good people is a good way to make sure nothing bad happens to them.
Jesus told a parable where God killed a rich man, because God forgot that it was possible for people who hoard wealth to be godly. He told another parable where a character representing Jesus came home and found one of his servants getting drunk and beating the others, so he chopped his servant into pieces.
God gave Lazarus a terminal illness just to give Jesus a chance to show off. And Jesus deliberately waited till Lazarus was dead before visiting his house. Then he brought Lazarus back to life,15 so he would have to experience death twice. Jesus was glad he hadn’t been there to save Lazarus from dying.
The Bible says God made an innocent man suffer and die for everyone else’s sins. He didn’t have to do that. Since everything is possible for God, he could have accomplished the same goals without anyone having to suffer and die. But God wanted to crush him and make him suffer.
God killed a couple for choosing not to fully participate in the early Christians’ communist system where they had to give 100% of their income to their leaders to be distributed among the community according to their needs. Paul said God also killed a number of Christians for eating and drinking “in an unworthy manner”.
God had an angel kill Herod Agrippa just because his subjects thought he was a god. Herod himself never said he was a god. God just killed him immediately after some other people said he sounded like a god. He never even gave Herod a chance to say what he thought about it.Continue reading Killings in the Bible