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By Keith W. Munday

War is a complex subject. There are varied attitudes to its ethics, and they differ, not only in society as a whole, but also in Christian thought.


These two words have different connotations. In the sixth of the ten commandments given by God to Moses, it stipulates "Thou shalt not kill"(1) but later translations it is amended to read "You must not commit murder". This puts the subject into perspec- tive. In both cases a life is taken, but the motivation and circumstances may differ.

Murder is the deliberate and intentional killing of another person. This is consistently maintained throughout the Bible as a sin(2) and in civilised societies as a crime. See- ing that there are other causes of death through accident or negligence, they would be be viewed as manslaughter. Likewise a policeman if while defending himself or other people against an assailant caused death, all things considered he would not be charged with murder, although of course there would be a thorough investigation into the circumstances.

According to the book of Genesis(3) capital punishment was a part of the judicial code at that time, and the death of the murderer was required, and as in the case of countries that still (or did) carry out executions, the executioner would not be regarded as a murderer as he was acting within, and on behalf of the law.

This aspect of killing brings us to the ethics of war. Soldiers are not charged with murder when they kill in defence of the Realm, because it is done in the legitimate line of duty. There have been times when the military have exceeded their duty and have become involved in atrocities.

In the Old Testament God actually ordered the Israelites to engage in warfare, and this must have been because He knew that defeat would mean that circumstances would have become intolerable and His purposes threatened(4).

Index to the Topic
War: killing and murder - a clarification
Attitudes to War
The Pacifist position
Personal responses to War
An overview of conscientious objection. 

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