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Passages in the Bible
which discuss suicide

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The Bible contains a number of references to men seeking suicide, either

bulletby taking direct action or
bulletby begging God to kill them on the spot.

In these passages, the authors of the Bible do not appear to consider suicide to be a great moral sin. The act of committing suicide or of asking that God kill them are simply reported in a factual manner. The authors do not interpret these acts as sinful. They seem to be regarded simply as straightforward personal decisions. However, the Christian church has traditionally deviated from the biblical message and has considered suicide to be a great moral sin. Some denominations have even refused to bury people who have committed suicide.

The New King James translation is quoted here:

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Hebrew Scriptures (Old Testament):

There are many stories of individuals who either pleaded with God to end their life, or who killed themselves, or who sought the assistance of another to kill them:

bulletExodus 20 and Deuteronomy 5 contain two similar version of the Ten Commandments. Both Exodus 20:13 and Deuteronomy 5:17 appear in the King James Version of the Bible as  "Thou shalt not kill." This obviously cannot be interpreted literally, because people continually kill plants and animals for food. It has generally been interpreted as meaning that one should not murder a human being, except in cases of self defense or warfare. Christians are divided over whether these verses include suicide. Religious conservatives tend to say that it does; many liberals believe that there are circumstances where suicide is morally justifiable. 10 years experience as a volunteer at a suicide prevention line has led me to believe that suicide is rarely justifiable; it is often a permanent solution to a temporary problem.
bulletNumbers 11:12-15 Moses was in despair because of the complaints of the Israelites whom he was leading. The burden of leadership was too heavy for him to bear. He asked God "If You treat me like this, please kill me here and now..."
bulletJudges 9:52-54: The warrior-king of Israel, Abimelech, was attacking a tower in Thebez, hoping to exterminate large numbers of unarmed civilians as he had just done in Shechem. As he attempted to burn the door to the tower, a woman dropped a piece of a millstone on Abimelech's head. He felt that he was mortally wounded. The king's contempt for women was so great that he quickly asked his armor bearer to kill him with his sword, in order that people not say that he had been killed by a woman. 
bulletJudges 16:29-30 Samson had been chained to the two middle pillars of a temple. He pushed them apart. thereby knowingly causing the collapse of the building, his own suicide and the death of a few thousand people inside. The death toll exceeded the number of people that he had killed during the rest of his life -which was considerable. Samson had been blinded, and no longer wanted to live as a captive. And by causing his own death, he had a chance to destroy many of the enemy.
bullet1 Samuel 31:4-6 In a war against the Philistines, Saul's sons Johnathan, Abinadab and Malchishua were killed, and Saul himself was seriously wounded. He asked his armor bearer to kill him, but his assistant refused. So he took a sword and fell on it. The armor bearer then also fell on his sword. Both committed suicide. These precise events are also described in 1 Chronicles 10:3-7. Saul's justification for committing suicide was that because of his injuries, if the Philistines arrived, he would be abused and killed by uncircumcised men.
bullet2 Samuel 1:2-17 An unidentified Amalekike man described to David a very different account about Saul's death. The versions in 1 Samuel 31 and 1 Chronicles 10, describe how Saul committed suicide by himself, after his armor bearer refused to perform the task. In this version, Saul had the Amalekite, a stranger, kill him, in a form of assisted suicide. After hearing the story of how the Amalekike had carried out the wishes of Saul, David had him executed on the spot, because he had "slain the LORD's anointed." The implication is that one can assist in the suicide of a commoner, but not in the case of a king. There is no criticism of Saul asking for help in committing suicide.
bullet2 Samuel 17:1-29 Ahithophel recommended that he be allowed to choose 12,000 men, to pursue King David immediately, and kill him. When his advice was not accepted, he became so depressed that he returned to his city, "put his household in order, and hanged himself, and died..."
bullet1 King 16:15-20 Zimri, king of Tirzah, saw his city besieged and taken. He was distressed at the sins that he had committed. He "went into the citadel of the king's house and burned the king's house down upon himself with fire, and died..."
bulletI King 18:40 and 19:4 In an act of vicious religious intolerance, Elijah ordered 400 priests of Baal executed. Ahab went to Jezebel, telling her that Elijah had "executed all the prophets with the sword." She swore to kill Elijah within the next 24 hours. Elijah fled for this life to Beersheba, went into the wilderness, and "prayed that he might die." He said, "It is enough! Now, LORD, take my life, for I am no better than my fathers!"
bulletJonah 4:1-11 God had threatened the destruction of the Nineveh, a city of 120,000 people. But the king and people of the city listened to Jonah, repented of their sins, and fasted. God changed his mind and did not destroy the city. Jonah was so angry at God's display of mercy that he asked God to kill him, "for it is better for me to die than to live!" He repeated the same request to God on the next day. 

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Christian Scriptures (New Testament) Passages

bulletMatthew 27:5 After Judas had betrayed Jesus in return for 30 pieces of silver, he hanged himself. Acts 1:18 is in apparent contradiction to this passage; it relates how he fell. He "burst open in the middle and all his entrails gushed out." It is likely that he did not simply fall down, but rather fell from a height great enough to split his body open. Most religious liberals would assume that these two very different accounts of the death were simply the result of different traditional stories related independently by the anonymous authors of Matthew and Acts. Some conservative Christians have attempted to harmonize the two stories by concluding that Judas hanged himself from a tree which hung over a ravine. The rope broke and he fell to the rocks below, splitting open his body.
bullet1 Corinthians 3:17: "If anyone defiles the temple of God, God will destroy him. For the temple of God is holy, which temple you are." This is an interesting passage because it has been interpreted in very different ways by Bible commentators and translators:
bulletAn individual defiling his own body:
bulletSome Bible translations, like the King James Version, and New King James, render the second word in this passages as "defile." Rheims New Testament uses "violate." This would seem to refer to an individual engaging in various damaging acts such as illegal drug usage, committing adultery, incest, smoking, etc.
bulletOne commentary suggests that Paul might have been "thinking ahead to those Cor[inthian] Christians who desecrate god's temple by the sexual immoralities which he severely censures in" Chapters 5 & 6. 3
bulletAnother commentary notes that the two words "defiles" and "destroy" in the above passage are actually the same word in the original Greek. It carries the meaning "desecrate." 4
bulletWillmington's Bible Handbook refers to Verses 16 & 17 as implying that "Many of those in Corinth should be seriously concerned about the condition of their spiritual building." i.e. they should be certain that their lifestyle are not desecrating their bodies. 6
bulletIndividuals attacking the body of believers:
bulletThe New Living Translation translates verse 16 and 17 as: "Don't you realize that all of your together are the temple of God and that the Spirit of God lives in you. God will bring ruin upon anyone who ruins this temple. For God's temple is holy and you Christians are that temple."
bulletThe same commentary as is mentioned above states that the "temple" here refers to the body of believers: "The destroyers seek to to subvert the temple itself and will themselves be destroyed." 4
bulletThe New Jerome Biblical Commentary translates "holy temple" as referring to "The [Christian] community...destroyed by lack of sanctity." 5
bulletIndividuals committing suicide:
bulletHowever, other Bible translations may put an entirely different slant on this passage. The American Standard Version, New American Bible, New American Standard Bible, New International Version, and New Revised Standard Version render the word as "destroy." That might imply the act of a person committing suicide. Yet a reference to suicide seems out of place in a chapter which is called "On Divisions in the Church" in the New International Version. This may be instances of translators' personal theology interfering with their choice of English words.
bulletPhilippians 1:20-26 Paul is contemplating whether it is better to live or die.  He is hard pressed to decide between the two, "having a desire to depart and be with Christ, which is far better. Nevertheless to remain in the flesh is more needful for you...yet what I shall choose I cannot tell." One commentator writes of this passage that Paul "does not know whether he prefers life with labor or death with gain...in a life-and-death situation, he scarcely knows which alternative is to be preferred." He does choose life. 1
bulletRevelation 9:1-10 An angel is described as opening the bottomless pit to release clouds of locusts. These insects had a body like a horse, hair like a woman's, a face of a man, and teeth like a lion. They were instructed to attack those people who "did not have the seal of God on their foreheads." The locusts were to torment people for five months but not to kill them. They had stingers in their tails like those of scorpions. Verse 6 says: "In those days men will seek death and will not find it; they will desire to die, and death will flee from them." i.e. they will attempt to commit suicide to end the torment, but for some reason, will be unable to achieve it.

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A related essay and menu on this site:


Menu: Suicide: facts, ethical aspects, religious considerations, etc


Essay: Euthanasia and physician assisted suicide.

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  1. C.M. Laymon, Ed., "The Interpreter's One-Volume Commentary on the Bible," Abingdon, Nashville TN, (1991), Page 848.

  2. Diane Dew, "Suicide and the Bible," at: http://www.dianedew.com/suicide.htm

  3. Charles M. Laymon, "The Interpreter's one-volume commentary on the Bible," Abingdon Press, (1971). Page 798.

  4. J.D. Douglas et al., "New commentary on the whole Bible: New Testament Volume," Tyndale House, (190), Page 423.

  5. Raymond E. Brown, et al., "The New Jerome Biblical Commentary," Geoffrey Chapman, (1990), Page 802.

  6. Harold L. Willmington, "Willmington's Bible Handbook," Tyndale House, (1997), Page 680.

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Copyright � 1997 to 2005 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Last update: 2005-OCT-02
Author: B.A. Robinson

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