by Al Maxey

Issue #467 ------- December 9, 2010
Nonviolence within a violent society
cannot provide a program of action; it is,
indeed, a form of complicity with it.

Felix Greene {1909-1985}

Justifiable Use of Deadly Force
Defining the Parameters of the Use of Deadly
Force in View of God's Law in Exodus 22:2-3

Someone once stated, "To take a life is always to die a little." This expresses quite well, in my view, what any rational person has come to experience when forced to take the life of another. No one in their right mind finds any sense of pleasure in killing, although there are circumstances where one may be compelled to choose whether or not to do so. Even those who take a stand for pacifism have at times recognized the legitimate need for a more aggressive alternative. Gandhi, by way of example, observed: "Where there is only a choice between cowardice and violence, I would advise violence." Gandhi had very little use for the cowardly, and in that respect echoes the sentiments of our God, who has listed "the cowardly" first in the listing of those who are to be cast into "the lake that burns with fire and brimstone, which is the second death" (Rev. 21:8).

Yes, there are times when good men must stand and fight, rather than cower and tremble, in the face of evil. There are some things worth fighting for, and I am not just talking about just causes or noble ideals. If someone seeks to inflict harm upon my loved ones, then I must be willing and prepared to protect them, even if that means meeting violence with violence. If some person makes it clear he/she intends to take the life of my loved one, and I have the means and opportunity to stop him/her, I would not hesitate for even a second to end that person's life! And, brethren, we not only have the approval of our society to do this, we also have the approval of our God. "Justifiable homicide" signifies just that -- there are times when the taking of another's life is fully justified in the sight of both God and man, and no guilt is to be assigned to the one using that deadly force.

Societies, both primitive and advanced, both ancient and modern, have for millennia regarded it as morally acceptable, and at times even expedient and highly praiseworthy, for one person to take the life of another person in certain special circumstances, regarding such a homicide as completely justifiable. As one might imagine, societies differ with respect to what constitutes a justified killing of another human being. In 18th century English law, for example, William Blackstone documents that it was considered a justifiable homicide if a man killed another man for "ravishing" (raping) his wife. Although there are several exceptions, more modern societies tend to frown upon such "crimes of passion." In most societies, a state of war is regarded as a circumstance in which soldiers may justifiably take the lives of those arrayed against them and their nation or cause. Indeed, many such killers (as they are often labeled) are given medals and a hero's welcome upon their return from the battlefield. As one who served in combat in Vietnam (Christians Bearing Arms --- Reflections #232), and who also currently holds a permit to carry a concealed weapon (Concealed Carry Christians --- Reflections #345), I have some rather strong feelings in this area!! The state-ordered execution of a criminal is also an example of a justified homicide (see my testimony in Reflections #17, in which I describe my role in the execution of a prisoner here in New Mexico on November 6, 2001). The taking of a life by a law enforcement officer in the line of duty may also be justifiable in certain circumstances. A surgeon, in separating conjoined twins, may at times have to take the life of one twin to save the life of the other. Such a "homicide" is regarded as justified in most societies. Even some abortions and some acts of euthanasia may be deemed justified under certain circumstances --- although both of these areas are matters of great debate due to various moral, ethical and spiritual concerns (see my article on abortion --- Reflections #155).

Killing another person who is seeking to kill you is almost universally recognized as a justifiable homicide. Such is generally categorized as "self-defense," although one may be forced to prove, in some cases, "murderous intent" on the part of the deceased. Killing to save the life of another who is in danger of being killed is also generally regarded as justified. Killing to protect one's property, or the property of another individual, is a much more complicated area of law, and the codes differ from society to society (and even from state to state within our own nation). Thus, I would strongly advise that one know the laws of his/her own state with regard to these matters. The 2006 New Mexico Code (Section 30-2-7) declares that a homicide is justifiable when committed by any person in any of the following cases:

  1. When committed in the necessary defense of his life, his family or his property, or in necessarily defending against any unlawful action directed against himself, his wife or family;
  2. When committed in the lawful defense of himself, or of another, and when there is a reasonable ground to believe a design exists to commit a felony or to do some great personal injury against such person or another, and there is imminent danger that the design will be accomplished; or
  3. When necessarily committed in attempting, by any lawful ways and means, to apprehend any person for any felony committed in his presence, or in lawfully suppressing any riot, or in necessarily and lawfully keeping and preserving the peace.

Once again, let me stress that our fifty states vary on these points, especially with respect to the use of deadly force to protect property, so I very strongly urge the reader to check with his/her own state to determine what constitutes "justifiable homicide" in his/her own jurisdiction. The taking of another's life in order to save a life is generally accepted as justified, but when it comes to taking another's life to protect one's property, there is significant disagreement! May a thief, for example, be killed? May someone kill an intruder? These are difficult questions, and they have been debated for centuries. Some do not feel defense of property is sufficient cause to take a human life. Others argue that a thief assumes that risk when he/she chooses a life of crime, and if they forfeit their lives in the course of committing a crime then they have no one to blame but themselves. In most laws, however, both ancient and modern, theft is not generally perceived to be a capital offence, but rather one in which the perpetrator was to be apprehended and forced to make restitution unto those whom he or she had robbed. In the laws of God dealing with theft and property damage, the culprit was not to be put to death, but rather forced to repay what he had taken and then assessed an additional penalty. "If a man steals an ox or a sheep and slaughters it or sells it, he must pay back five head of cattle for the ox and four sheep for the sheep" (Exodus 22:1). "If the stolen animal is found alive in his possession -- whether ox or donkey or sheep -- he must pay back double" (vs. 4). The principle is: "A thief must certainly make restitution, but if he has nothing, he must be sold to pay for his theft" (vs. 3b). In principle, we do the same in our societies today. If an individual who steals is caught, but unable to repay, they may be forced to work so as to repay the debt, or forced to do community service to repay it. The forms of servitude may vary from society to society, but the principle remains much the same.

There is an exception to the above biblical laws on theft and burglary, however, and this exception is also recognized in the laws of most human societies. If the theft involves a "breaking and entering" of one's abode under the cover of darkness, where the full intent of the individual(s) committing this act cannot be easily discerned by the householder, deadly force may be used by the latter. The reason that deadly force is justified in such a circumstance is that the intent of the one breaking and entering may be unknown, and therefore the owner of the house may justifiably assume that the intent may well include great bodily harm or even death! Therefore, the killing of the intruder is judged justified not because he/she was entering your home to steal, but because they may have been entering your home to inflict harm or death upon the occupants. When intent cannot be easily discerned, which is the case under cover of darkness, it is fair for the owner to assume the worst and to act or react accordingly. "If a thief is caught breaking in and is struck so that he dies, the defender is not guilty of bloodshed; but if it happens after the sun rises, he is guilty of bloodshed" (Exodus 22:2-3a). Why does all this change after sunrise? Because intent may be more easily assessed. If the person is only there to steal, and has no obvious intent or means to inflict bodily harm, the use of deadly force, according to this biblical law, is denied.

Again, such sharp distinctions between night burglaries and day thefts are recognized in most every society, whether ancient or modern. In the Laws of Solon, for example, which formed part of early Athenian law, it was deemed "justifiable homicide" if a burglar was killed "in the act" at night on a person's property. In ancient Jewish canon law, as interpreted by Rabbi Maimonides, "it is lawful to kill him" (i.e., the person "digging through" into one's own property at night for the purpose of theft). His reasoning was based on the notion that if a person "dug through" (which is what the Hebrew term literally signifies in the Ex. 22:2 passage) into your home at night, then it must be assumed that he had some kind of digging instrument in his possession that he utilized to "dig through" your wall or door, which instrument, it may rightfully be assumed, could further be used in a harmful or lethal way against the owner! The Napoleonic Code, the Dutch-Roman Principles, the Hittite Laws, English Common Law, and even the ancient Laws of Eshnunna (which predate the Code of Hammurabi) "make this same distinction between nighttime and daylight intrusions" as it pertains to the killing of the intruder, and whether that killing is "justifiable homicide" or not [The Expositor's Bible Commentary, vol. 2, p. 436].

"The reason for this disparity between a thief by night and one in the day is that the power and intention of a nightly thief are uncertain, and whether he may not have come for the purpose of committing murder" [Keil and Delitzsch, Commentary on the Old Testament, vol. 1, pt. 2, p. 137). That intent simply cannot be readily ascertained by the occupant of the home under cover of darkness. Thus, the owner has the right to assume the worst intent on the part of the intruder and respond accordingly. "The principle here laid down rests upon the probability that those who break into a house by night have a murderous intent, or at least have the design, if occasion arose, to commit murder" [The Pulpit Commentary, vol. 1, pt. 3, p. 185]. "The worst form of theft proper is burglary. Burglary destroys the repose of the household, introduces a feeling of insecurity, trenches upon the sacredness of the hearth, endangers life, affrights tender women and children. By permitting the destruction of the burglar, the law of God pronounced him to be worthy of death" [ibid, p. 186]. "Most codes agree with the Mosaic in allowing the residents of the house to resist such a forcible entry if it is made at night, and to shed the blood of the burglar, if necessary, as a murderous intent on his part may be suspected" [Dr. Charles Ellicott, Commentary on the Whole Bible, vol. 1, p. 269]. "A man's house is his castle, and God's law, as well as man's law, sets a guard upon it; he that assaults it does so at his peril" [Matthew Henry, Commentary on the Whole Bible, e-Sword].

As I mentioned at the beginning of this article, no one in their right mind finds any pleasure in the taking of another's life ... regardless of the circumstances in which that life may have been taken. Even in defense of one's own person or property, or in defense of the lives of one's loved ones, the killing of another human being is a tremendous tragedy on numerous levels. However, due to the nature of the evil that lurks within this world, and within the hearts of those devoted to it, there will be times when innocent people are faced with life and death choices. The laws of man, and, more importantly, the law of God, allows us, at such times, to utilize deadly force, and to do so justifiably. I pray that none of us will ever be faced with such a choice, but if we ever should be -- may we be prepared to stand courageously in defense of that which and those whom we cherish. To cower in the face of evil is inexcusable. We must stare it in the face and give it its just due!!

Down, But Not Out
A Study of Divorce and Remarriage
in Light of God's Healing Grace

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One Bread, One Body
An Examination of Eucharistic
Expectation, Evolution and Extremism

A 230 page book by Al Maxey

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Readers' Reflections

From a Reader in Texas:

Dear Brother Al, I have enclosed a check to cover the purchase price for three copies of your new book One Bread, One Body. I have been reading you for the past couple of years, and have been blessed. I want to introduce your writings to our two sons. One is a Children's Minister and the other is a 2nd LT with the 82nd Airborne Division. Both are good men of faith with a servant's heart and a disciple's mind. Thank you!

From a Reader in Indiana:

Dear Brother Maxey, I would like to purchase one signed copy of each of your books: Down, But Not Out and One Bread, One Body. My check is enclosed. God bless you for your good work in the church!

From a Reader in Ohio:

Brother Al, I would like to have a signed copy of each of your books, and am sending a check to cover the cost. Thanks!

From a Reader in Colorado:

Dear Brother Maxey, Enclosed is the price for one signed copy of your book Down, But Not Out. I am very much looking forward to reading it. I also very much appreciate all the work you do and the spirit in which you do it, and I look forward, as well, to your Reflections articles each week. As a "recovering legalist," your work, that of Cecil Hook, Leroy Garrett and Carl Ketcherside have been invaluable. Thank you, and may God bless you and your family.

From a Minister in Texas:

Dear Brother Al, I just read your latest article (Reflective or Regulative? -- Inquiry into Two Interpretive Principles and their Application to Instrumental Accompaniment in a Worship Assembly) that is in the current issue of New Wineskins magazine. You went just a little farther in some of your statements than I would have, but I have been working on the same kind of hermeneutic as you've put forth in your article. I agree that many, if not all, of our divisive issues should be settled by the "beneficial" arm of your hermeneutical approach. Thanks for your thoughts and study. Also, please subscribe me to your weekly Reflections.

From a Reader in Washington:

Dear Brother Al, I find it truly amazing when some folks (like Alan Highers) pull out what they think are statistics about someone else's endeavors with no backup proof other than their own opinion. You know what they say about opinions! You, my friend, are reaching people who have never read a single Reflections article, because folks are hearing about you from friends (and sometimes enemies). I firmly believe that people forget the great power of God's Word. It is people like you and Edward Fudge who are able to help folks open their eyes to the wonders of God's Word. This, in turn, affects their lives! Keep on soldiering, brother! We are right alongside you!

From a Reader in China:

Dear Brother Al, The Holy Spirit must have been leading you to minister to me today. I was recently studying the passage in 1 Samuel that you were discussing, and I was being plagued by the "old Church of Christ tapes" that seem to run constantly in my head, telling me, "See! This is why you cannot have instruments or praise teams or blah, blah, blah." These legalists have crafted a law that is not found in the Scriptures, and when they ask us to "obey," they are not asking for obedience to what GOD says; instead, they're demanding that people obey THEIR commands. They have forsaken the two greatest commandments (to love God and to love each other) and they have supplanted them with "thou shalt not use instruments," which is just part of their unwritten creed of thousands of little rules one must follow to make it to heaven. "Obedience" for the legalists today means complying with their narrow interpretation of Scripture or their tradition. The legalists fail to see that those down and dirty "libruls" and "change agents" are often only disobeying these extra-biblical commands being bound on them by party leaders! Once again, Al, this week's article was another great one! I don't know how you keep doing it, but you always hit a home run every week!! Have you ever considered signing with the Cubs?!

From a Reader in Texas:

Brother Al, The following statement you wrote is a great one, and we should all consider it often: "In their spiritual nearsightedness, they seek to focus only upon the externals of their religion, rather than delving deeper into the eternal Truths that should be defining their purpose for being and providing guidance for the evolution of an increasingly intimate relationship with their Father." This past Sunday, in the final lesson in a series called "More Than A Savior," our preacher discussed the placebos we have in our lives that take the place of an increasingly intimate relationship with our Father. Our "worship service," for example, has become little more than a placebo in our lives, existing to make us think that we have a relationship! Our God is, and He's always been, interested in intimate relationship over placebo, as you have taught.

From a Reader in California:

Bro. Maxey, I am so excited that you will be back at The Tulsa Workshop this coming March!! It was a great privilege to meet you this past spring (enclosed is a picture that was taken of me with you after one of your talks), and I am glad that you have been invited back. I also want to offer a heartfelt thanks to you for your Reflections ministry! My heart aches at the years I have wasted in what I thought was Truth (legalism). I am so glad that I now know the reality of Jesus' message (grace). I knew that God had a plan for His church, but I just could not accept that He had replaced the Old Law with some New Law. I also could not accept that God would torture people forever instead of simply destroying those who didn't want Him. Dear Brother, you are so important to the church today, because you put voice to the thoughts that so many in shackles are thinking. I consider you a mentor, Bro. Maxey, but the true glory for your teaching goes to Christ Jesus -- the focus of our praise! You are merely showing us all the way to Him ... and I thank you so much for it!!

From a Reader in Tennessee:

Dear Brother Al, Thank you for your ministry! I am encouraged by each and every one of your Reflections, and your last two were excellent. I was not bothered in the least by the image of Mother Teresa in issue #465, but I'm sure there were some legalists who were. That was evidenced by the accusation of the legalist that you had intentionally left out 1 Samuel 15:22 in your previous study. The whole deal with these legalists really sickens me, and reminds me of a few years ago when the Adult Bible Class I was attending began searching for study material for the new quarter. The teacher brought in several books from the local Church of Christ book store for the class to examine and to choose from. The author of one of these books (and I have forgotten the author and title) had a whole chapter devoted to comparing Mother Teresa to Jeffrey Dahmer. The point the author was trying to make was that even though Mother Teresa did much good, she was still LOST because she was NOT "a member of the church," and yet Jeffrey Dahmer, even though he had murdered, dismembered and cannibalized sixteen young men, was SAVED because he was baptized by a Church of Christ minister in the prison. The comparison repulsed me. Thankfully, we didn't select that book. Instead, they selected a book on Heaven that devoted three whole chapters to a literal interpretation of "The Rich Man and Lazarus." So, I'm not in that congregation any more. Keep up the good work, Al, and have a very Merry Christmas. I will see you in March, 2011 at The Tulsa Workshop.

From a Reader in Georgia:

Dear Brother Al, It can't be ignored that there are "those" that will bang loudly on the gong of discontent when the Truth that you speak of unrobes years of tradition which has been perpetrated abroad as "divine instruction." It is the noise of that gong that in some ways is the measure of your effectiveness. So, forge ahead with the conviction of your spirit ... and of His!

From a Reader in Texas:

Dear Brother Al, Your last two Reflections articles were excellent, and you have edified me! I pray that you always realize the gift that our Father has given you in being able to reach out to so many in your church heritage, and to all others who choose to listen. Bless you, Al, and I pray that you never let this gift be a cause of broken fellowship. I know that I am listening to God the Father when you speak, but stay humble and remain the faithful servant, for God is using you mightily to His praise.

From a Reader in Texas:

Bro. Al, "To Obey is Better than Sacrifice" was another winner!! Well-written in every way, as usual. I must confess that it had not occurred to me that some would assert that you had deliberately left out the 1 Samuel 15:22 passage, while addressing the Hosea 6:6 passage (and Jesus' use of it in the Gospels), simply to avoid having to comment on obedience, as some have claimed that you did. But, such is the nature of those who are rigidly set in their opinions, and who attack anyone who differs! Keep up the good work, brother!

From a Minister in Oklahoma:

Brother Al, I hope you and Shelly had a wonderful Thanksgiving holiday. I just wanted you to know that I am so thankful for your weekly Reflections. You have an awesome gift to tell the wondrous story of our Lord. Keep up the good work, brother. I know the Lord is proud of the job you are doing.

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