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Bible verses about Accidental Death
(From Forerunner Commentary)

Exodus 20:13

The Hebrew of the sixth commandment is about as terse as it can be. It consists of two words that are the Hebrew equivalent of "No killing." However, enough other scriptures appear in God's Word to let us know that the commandment means that God does not permit violent and premeditated killing of one perceived as an enemy. Exodus 21:12-14 clarifies this:

He who strikes a man so that he dies shall surely be put to death. However, if he did not lie in wait, but God delivered him into his hand, then I will appoint for you a place where he may flee. But if a man acts with premeditation against his neighbor, to kill him by treachery, you shall take him from My altar, that he may die.

This clearly separates a premeditated murder from an accidental killing. One can discern from verse 14 that, under this circumstance, constituted civil authorities are permitted by God to enact the death penalty.

Verses 12 and 13 imply that no amount of money or property settlement can atone for the destruction of the image of God in a murdered person. Even if the death was truly accidental, the killer still had to flee to a city of refuge. But for one guilty of deliberate murder, there were no sanctuaries whatsoever to flee to, not even the altar of God.

John W. Ritenbaugh
The Sixth Commandment


 

Exodus 21:12-14

God makes provision for an accidental or carelessly caused death. Yet if the murder was premeditated, the state executed the murderer. It made no determination of his sanity. Of course he was insane! Ascertaining a person's sanity in no way alleviates the loss to the victim's family or pays the murderer's debt to society. Capital punishment at least gives a sense of justice done and supplies a measure of deterrent if it is swiftly, consistently, and fairly administered.

John W. Ritenbaugh
The Sixth Commandment (Part One) (1997)


 

Exodus 21:12-14

Under the original letter of the law, it was intentional killing (murder) that was forbidden. Accidental killing was not regarded as murder. Nevertheless, manslaughter is a horrible crime, and the culprit had to remain in a city of refuge until the high priest died.

Martin G. Collins
The Sixth Commandment


 

Exodus 22:2-3

Verse 2 seems to contradict the idea that Christians should not kill in self-defense. At first glance, this seems to support the "self-defense in one's home" argument, but like Numbers 35:16-28, the distinction is accidental versus intentional. Verse 3 explains this: "If the sun has risen on him [the killer], there shall be guilt for his bloodshed."

This statute illustrates that God differentiates between a killing committed when it is dark and one done when it is light. The meaning is not that darkness gives us license to break God's law, but rather that in the dark it is more difficult to determine what level of force is necessary to restrain an unknown intruder. The law gives the homeowner the benefit of the doubt in assuming that he would not deliberately use lethal force, since that falls under intentional or premeditated murder (Exodus 20:13).

Jesus Christ came to fulfill the law, and James also exhorts us to "fulfill the royal law" by loving our neighbors as ourselves (James 2:8). Jesus teaches that murder begins in the heart and has everything to do with intention, even if the act of killing is not followed through (Matthew 5:21-22).

This instruction reiterates that murder is either accidental or intentional, based on what is in the heart. When applied to Exodus 22:2-3, Christ's words show that when a thief is killed in the dark, there is a good chance that the homeowner acted without animosity or premeditation. But if a homeowner kills a thief when nothing in the circumstance hinders his judgment, he is without excuse—the act was intentional, and he is guilty of murder.

David C. Grabbe
Does Scripture Allow for Killing in Self-Defense?


 

Leviticus 4:2

"Unintentionally [ignorantly, KJV]" includes more than one might think at first. It means "wander," "err," "make a mistake," and "go astray," and contains a strong sense of ignorance and even inadvertence. It suggests a lack of deep understanding of the seriousness of the sin involved. In other words, regarding this sin, the person did not know any better. It includes sins done with a degree of consciousness, an awareness of what one is doing'something done willingly out of weakness'but not sins done deliberately.

For instance, the Bible clearly differentiates between manslaughter and murder, and the underlying principle revolves around presumption:

And if you sin unintentionally, and do not observe all these commandments which the LORD has spoken to Moses. . . . [T]he person who does anything presumptuously, whether he is native-born or a stranger, that one brings reproach on the LORD, and he shall be cut off from among his people. Because he has despised the word of the LORD, and has broken His commandment, that person shall be completely cut off; his guilt shall be upon him. (Numbers 15:22, 30-31)

Manslaughter is to kill someone accidentally, while murder is to take a life deliberately and willfully. To sin presumptuously is to sin willfully. Those who overstep their bounds and dare to act in a disobedient manner commit presumptuous sins such as murder. The New Testament word translated "presume" can mean "to think," "to suppose," "to deal proudly, defiantly, and recklessly," and "to look down upon." It shows an evil attitude and a twisted thinking process followed by an action one knows full well is absolutely wrong to do.

John W. Ritenbaugh
Presumption and Divine Justice


 

Numbers 35:9-28

God instructed Israel about what to do when a man was killed. These verses show that God recognizes only two classifications of killing: accidental and intentional. "Self-defense" is not even listed as a possibility! God illustrates "accidental death" as occurring when there is no intent to kill or to harm. It is accidental when there is no awareness that an action will result in the death of another. Deuteronomy 19:5 provides a clear example of such an accident: ". . . as when a man goes to the woods with his neighbor to cut timber, and his hand swings a stroke with the ax to cut down the tree, and the head slips from the handle and strikes his neighbor so that he dies."

However, when there is intent to kill or injure, God's law defines it as murder regardless of what the other person was threatening to do, about to do, or in the process of doing. If a man fires a gun with the foreknowledge that it has the potential to kill another man, it is murder. The "self-defense" category is something afforded by the law of the land, not by the law of God.

David C. Grabbe
Does Scripture Allow for Killing in Self-Defense?


 

Numbers 35:9-34

The cities of refuge were sanctuaries to which those who accidentally killed another could flee. There were six of them located throughout Israel, three on each side of the Jordan River. Even if the killer made it to a city of refuge, he still had to undergo a trial. If he was found guilty of committing an accidental death, he had to remain in the city until the death of the current high priest. Thus, the city served as his jail. However, he was otherwise free to move about, find employment, and live with and support his family.

If he left the city for any reason, the avenger of blood could lawfully take the killer's life. The avenger of blood (verses 12, 19) was usually a blood-relative of the manslaughter victim. His assignment from the family was to protect the family's rights and to avenge the family's loss of the killed person. The vengeance taken was not always to take the killer's life. If the avenger actually took the killer's life before he managed to reach a city of refuge, then he truly was an "avenger of blood." However, the Hebrew term translated "avenger" is go'el, which has fascinating ramifications when appearing in other contexts, as it can also be translated "redeem" or "redeemer."

In the book of Ruth, it is translated as "redeem" seven times. Boaz was Ruth's redeemer. The redeemer was the one who stood for his family in order to protect its rights. Boaz protected the rights of his family in behalf of Ruth and Naomi due to Naomi's husband's death. He was the family's "avenger."

John W. Ritenbaugh
The Sixth Commandment


 

 




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