Unsettled Christianity

Gloria Dei homo vivens – St Irenaeus
April 21st, 2015 by Joel Watts

cases of suicide in (canonical) Scripture

English: Maccabees Shrine (Cologne). Deutsch: ...

English: Maccabees Shrine (Cologne). Deutsch: Makkabäerschrein (Köln, St. Andreas), Detail. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

So far, I have about ten (although I will add two as possible cases later on).

  • Judges 9.54, Abimelech
  • Judges 16.29, Samson (this is a hugely special case and very helpful as a necessary precursor for my dissertation)
  • 1 Samuel 31.4, Saul
  • 1 Samuel 31.5, Saul’s attendant
  • 2 Samuel 17.23, Ahithophel
  • 1 Kings 16.18, Zimri
  • 1 Maccabees 6.43, Elaezar
  • 2 Maccabees 10.13, Ptolemy Macron
  • 2 Maccabees 14.37, Razis, a loyal Jew who was soon to be arrested, killed himself because, “εὐγενῶς θέλων ἀποθανεῖν, ἤπερ τοῖς ἀλιτηρίοις ὑποχείριος γενέσθαι, καὶ τῆς ἰδίας εὐγενείας ἀναξίως ὑβρισθῆναι.”
  • Matthew 27.4, Judas

Not even Judas is condemned for his suicide. At least 2 of those are lauded, with one of those roundly praised.

While I hate making definitive statements about “the bible,” there is no explicit condemnation of self-inflicted killing in Scripture. Rather, we have plenty of examples that seem to match instances found in other cultures. Honor. Remorse. Heroism.

Thoughts?

Joel Watts
Watts holds a MA in Theological Studies from United Theological Seminary. He is currently a Ph.D. student at the University of the Free State, analyzing Paul’s model of atonement in Galatians, as well as seeking an MA in Clinical Mental Health at Adams State University. He is the author of Mimetic Criticism of the Gospel of Mark: Introduction and Commentary (Wipf and Stock, 2013), a co-editor and contributor to From Fear to Faith: Stories of Hitting Spiritual Walls (Energion, 2013), and Praying in God's Theater, Meditations on the Book of Revelation (Wipf and Stock, 2014).

Comments

4 Responses to “cases of suicide in (canonical) Scripture”
  1. Addendum,
    Suicide contemplated:

    Paul, Phil 1:21 For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain. 22 But if to live in the flesh,—if this shall bring fruit from my work, then what I shall choose I know not. 23 But I am in a strait betwixt the two, having the desire to depart and be with Christ; for it is very far better:

    Prison jailor, Acts 16:27 And the jailor, being roused out of sleep and seeing the prison doors open, drew his sword and was about to kill himself, supposing that the prisoners had escaped. 28 But Paul cried with a loud voice, saying, Do thyself no harm: for we are all here.

    Job, Job 7:15 So that my soul chooseth strangling, And death rather than these my bones. 16 I loathe my life; I would not live alway: Let me alone; for my days are vanity.

    Jonah, Jonah 4:3 Therefore now, O Jehovah, take, I beseech thee, my life from me; for it is better for me to die than to live. 8 And it came to pass, when the sun arose, that God prepared a sultry east wind; and the sun beat upon the head of Jonah, that he fainted, and requested for himself that he might die, and said, It is better for me to die than to live.

    Moses, Num 11:13 Whence should I have flesh to give unto all this people? for they weep unto me, saying, Give us flesh, that we may eat. 14 I am not able to bear all this people alone, because it is too heavy for me. 15 And if thou deal thus with me, kill me, I pray thee, out of hand, if I have found favor in thy sight; and let me not see my wretchedness.

    Conclusion:
    Ecc 7:15 All this have I seen in my days of vanity: there is a righteous man that perisheth in his righteousness, and there is a wicked man that prolongeth his life in his evil-doing. 16 Be not righteous overmuch; neither make thyself overwise: why shouldest thou destroy thyself?

    Chill!

  2. Know More Than I Should says

    Apart of theology, acceptance or prohibition of suicide seems to coincide with the need for labor. Also, as in the case of Judas, some people seem to be more expendable than others.

    While popularly labeled as “a cowards way out” these days, the case of Razis suggests suicide may be a preferable alternative to a fool’s way out. In other words, suicide may be the someone’s best choice before losing total control in an untenable situation for which a propitious outcome is highly unlikely.

    Let’s face it, when 500 soldiers are set to fetch you, the likelihood of a fortuitous ending is greatly diminished.

    • “the case of Razis suggests suicide may be a preferable alternative to a fool’s way out.”…
      You must be kidding!
      The poor guy was rather incompetent. Sounds like a Buster Keaton movie plot. “Preferring to die nobly” than “suffer outrages unworthy of his noble birth.”
      Didn’t hit the right spot with the sword, threw himself from the wall, all the people moved away and he hit an open space, ran through the crowd, jumped on a steep rock, and tore his entrails out, and threw them into the crowd. Then calls out to God to give him his entrails back. Holy Red Heifer, this guy was crazy!

  3. The error of many Christians on the suicide issue is simply that they interpret 1 Cor 3:17 as meaning “suicide” as they believe that Paul is talking about our body as a “temple of God”. Well, it is, but “defile” is not referring to suicide.
    Suicide should not either be endorsed or taken lightly, but, whether it leads to “eternal punishment” is not something that is supported in the Bible in my view. We’ve been always too quick in finding reasons in the Bible to send people to “hell”. This is not one!

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