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  • Writer's pictureJohn Coleman

Self Defense and the Sanctity of Life

Updated: Feb 3

Genesis 9:5–7 (RSVCE): 5 For your lifeblood I will surely require a reckoning; of every beast I will require it and of man; of every man’s brother I will require the life of man. 6 Whoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed; for God made man in his own image. 7 And you, be fruitful and multiply, bring forth abundantly on the earth and multiply in it.”

I often think of the justification for self defense when I read these verses. It clearly states that anyone who sheds the blood of another is subject to having his own blood shed. God says that the killing of another in the image of the divine cannot be done with impunity. God speaks of a "reckoning." There is an emphasis on this requirement of reckoning with "require" repeated. The punishment for such an egregious act will ultimately be delivered. This is a re-statement of the ancient custom of lex talionis or law of retribution. It’s echoed later in Scripture as "an eye for an eye" (Exod. 21:23–25; Lev. 24:19–20; Deut. 19:21). It follows this reasoning to say that death could be meted out by the one threatened with death. I continue to hold to this view as it relates to threatened deadly harm to oneself, but take a differing view on retribution by others or the community as a whole.


I also see more in these verses.


I now look at these verses as an emphasis on the sanctity of life. All are made in God's image and God commmands us to treat this with contemplated seriousness. We are called to treat life as Holy. While there are words we could read as supporting blood for blood, I read the emphasis on God's view of life and its ultimate value. If it’s such a treasure to our King, it must be the same for us.


This includes all life as "Our Father" is the "father" of all, not just those who do good. The judgment of action that rises to the level of destruction of the divine image is one for God.

And for those who immediately jump to this as support for death penalties of all types, the Mishnah and rabbinic tradition should be persuasive evidence of the view of life's value. It is said that rabbis as supported by writings in the Mishnah avoided the death penalty at almost all costs.


This is a statement on the need for all to participate in justice, but that justice should always reflect the character of God.











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