Suicide in the Bible

Every society and every culture has to deal with the problem of suicide. Taking one’s life is, in general, a phenomenon that most societies have rejected, and yet, the reality of suicide is present in every society, past and present.

Since suicide happens every day, people have taken different views about suicide and the eternal consequences for people who take their own lives. Ethicists and theologians differ on their views about suicide because neither the Old Testament nor the New Testament explicitly condemns suicide.

Most Christians are highly influenced by the views of Augustine and Thomas Aquinas on their view of suicide. Although the early Church Fathers allowed the taking of one’s life under certain circumstances, Augustine believed that suicide was not allowed in any circumstance. He believed that anyone who took his or her own life was beyond repentance because that person had violated the sixth commandment which clearly states “You shall not murder” (Exodus 20:13).

Thomas Aquinas believed that suicide was an unnatural act, one that denied Jesus’ command that one should love oneself (Mark 12:31). Aquinas also believed that taking one’s life was against God’s will because only God has the power to take life.

The views of Augustine and Aquinas have influenced the theology of the Catholic Church and the views of many Christians today. However, society today is becoming more lenient toward suicide. Today people talk about “Death-with-Dignity,” and “Aid in Dying” as options for people who are terminally ill. In these cases the terminally ill person receives medicine to shorten the dying process.

The Hemlock Society is a national right-to-die organization which promotes euthanasia. Other organizations have promoted physician assisted suicide as an end-of-life option.

The recent suicide of four pastors calls for a thorough study of what the Bible has to say about suicide and how suicide in the Bible influences a Christian perspective on suicide and the end-of-life options being promoted today.

What motivated me to study suicide in the Bible was the suicide of the four pastors I mentioned in my post below. After reviewing the six cases of suicide in the Old Testament, I will look at three cases of suicide in the Apocrypha and the suicide of Judas in the New Testament.

Once these studies are complete, I will use the lessons learned to formulate a Christian approach to suicide and the end-of-life options being promoted today. The posts will appear regularly over the next few weeks. Once they are published, I will add a link to each post listed below.

These are the posts to be published on this series on suicide:

1. When Pastors Kill Themselves

2. Abimelech’s Suicide (Judges 9:54)

3. Samson’s Suicide (Judges 16:25-31)

4. Saul’s Suicide (1 Samuel 31:3-4; 1 Chronicles 10:3-4)

5. Saul’s Armor Bearer’s Suicide (1 Samuel 31:5; 1 Chronicles 10:5)

6. Ahithophel’s Suicide (2 Samuel 17:23)

7. Zimri’s Suicide (1 Kings 16:18-19)

8. Suicide in the Apocrypha

9. Judas’ Suicide (Matthew 27:5; Acts 1:18)

10. Toward a Christian View of Suicide

I welcome your comments on these studies on suicide in the Bible.

Claude Mariottini
Professor of Old Testament
Northern Baptist Seminary

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Posted in Hebrew Bible, Suicide | Tagged , , | 8 Comments