Wednesday, July 9, 2014

When Killing an Intruder is Murder, and when it is Self-Defense (William O. Einwechter)

If a thief be found breaking up, and be smitten that he die, there shall no blood be shed for him. If the sun be risen upon him, there shall be blood shed for him. . . . (Ex. 22:2-3)

The context of Exodus 21:2-3 is dealing with theft and restitution. Within this discussion of theft, the case of a thief breaking in is presented. In this case law two scenarios are given. 
In the first scenario, a thief is “found breaking up,” that is, breaking in by breaking up the roof, a window, or a door during the night hours. Thus we have a forced entry into the house (or property) that is discovered by the owner. The owner responds to this alarming and threatening situation (for in the dark of night he knows not the intent, identity, or arms of the intruder) by killing the robber, presumably with some sort of weapon. The declaration of God’s law is that in these circumstances the owner is innocent of any wrongdoing, and is fully justified in using lethal force to defend himself and his family. 
The second instance involves a thief “breaking up” under different circumstances. In this case, it is during the daylight hours, and presumably, the owner can identify the intentions of the intruder and see that he is unarmed and poses no threat to life or limb, but is a mere thief. Yet, in spite of this the owner kills the thief. In these circumstances the owner who uses lethal force is guilty of a crime. This was not an act of self-defense (for he was not attacked or threatened) but an act of brutality against an unarmed man whose only intention was the theft of property. The penalty for theft was restitution, not death. Thus, this is a case of the unauthorized taking of human life, and is, therefore, murder, punishable by death. God’s law authorizes the protection of life by deadly force if necessary, but His law does not permit the defense of property in the same manner.
It is important to note that the case presented here of a thief breaking in involves the shedding of blood. Therefore, this case law is an application of the righteousness of the Sixth Commandment, “Thou shalt not kill.”  Consequently, the biblical law of self-defense empowers us to defend our lives against wicked men who hate God, His law, and the life of their neighbor. We may assume that those who threaten us with bodily harm or weapons hold the life God has given us in contempt, and, therefore, we may defend ourselves against such evil even to the point of killing our assailant.

William O. Einwechter, "Biblical Law and Self-Defense," Darash Press (originally published in The Christian Statesman, vol. 140, no. 1, January - February, 1997). Retrieved July 9, 2014 from


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