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What Does the Bible Really Say About Suicide

emotional health suicide Mar 21, 2023

Suicide in the United States is a major national public health issue.

The suicide of public figures — like Naomi Judd, Anthony Bourdain, and Robin Williams — brings the issue to the forefront of the national dialogue for a while, but we don’t like talking about it, so the conversation quickly dies down.


The Suicide Problem

That doesn’t change the fact that our country has one of the highest suicide rates among wealthy nations. In 2021 there were 47,646 recorded suicides, up from 45,799 in 2020.

From 2000 to 2020 there were over 800,000 suicides in the U.S. Those numbers mean a lot of things, but one thing is for sure — with over 800,000 suicides in the last 20 years, there are few families in our country that have not been impacted by suicide.

Someone said, “Suicide doesn’t end the pain, it just passes it on to someone else.” And there’s some truth to that. Those of us left behind carry a burden for those who left us through suicide.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in 2020 suicide was the twelfth leading cause of death overall in the United States.

However, suicide was the second leading cause of death among individuals between the ages of 10-14 and 25-34 , the third leading cause of death among individuals between the ages of 15-24, and the fourth leading cause of death among individuals between the ages of 35 and 44.

In 2020, there were nearly two times as many suicides (45,979) in the United States as there were homicides (24,576). Men are three times more likely to die by suicide than are women.

Surging death rates from suicide, drug overdoses, and alcoholism, what researchers refer to as "deaths of despair", are largely responsible for a consecutive three-year decline in life expectancy in the U.S. This constitutes the first three-year drop in life expectancy in the U.S. since the years 1915–1918.


What does the Bible say about suicide?

So, what does the bible say? The word “suicide” is not actually in the Bible. The Bible, therefore, doesn’t explicitly address suicide. It has some things to say about it — you just have to read between the lines.

Here’s how I want to attack this subject.

FIRST, we’ll examine the seven accounts of suicide found in the bible — six from the Old Testament and one from the New Testament..

SECOND, I’ll lay out a few of the biblical-theological principles that undergird a possible biblical response to suicide.

THIRD, I’ll give a brief history of the church’s attitude toward suicide (it has changed over the centuries),

FOURTH, I’ll end with a few hopefully helpful takeaways.

There are six times the Bible reports a suicide in the Old Testament. The Old Testament attitude towards suicide is actually quite varied. If you were going to base our attitude toward suicide simply on the Old Testament narratives and you asked what does the Bible say about suicide — your answer would be — “that depends.”

1. Abimelech son of Gideon (Jud. 9:54)

When Abimelech was mortally wounded by a woman who dropped a millstone on his head, he cried to his armor-bearer to kill him so his death would not be credited to a woman. And his armor-bearer obeyed.

Of course, it didn’t work. To this day he is famous for having been killed by a woman. But the story doesn’t really say anything more about it. It just reports that he did it and it didn’t work. In this case, suicide was depicted as negative.


2. Saul and 3. His Armor-Bearer (I Sam. 31:3–4; I Chr. 10:3–4)

Saul’s case was similar to Abimelech's. He also was in battle. He was surrounded by the enemy and knew he was going to be captured and tortured. He asked his armor-bearer to kill him, but his armor-bearer refused to do. Saul then fell on his own sword. And after he killed himself, his armor-bearer did the same, showing his absolute loyalty to his king.

In this case, suicide was seen as honorable for the armor-bearer, but a negative for Saul. It was the tragic end to a life of rebellion against God.


4. Samson (Jud. 16:25–31)

Samson destroyed the Philistine temple, killing himself and all those with him. There is irony in the fact that Samson lived his life pretending to be strong on the outside while he was weak on the inside. In this one final act, Samson pretended to be weak on the outside but was strong on the inside. This was a redeeming act for Samson. Some do not see this as a suicide as much as an act of military bravery. The Scriptures see it as a positive act.


5. Zimri (I Kg. 16:18–19)

Zimri set himself afire after his rebellion failed. This is seen as a negative and a tragic end to a life of sin and rebellion.


6. Ahithophel (II Sam. 17:23)

This is an interesting and unique case of suicide in the Old Testament. Ahithophel hanged himself after his advice was no longer followed by King David’s son Absalom (2 Samuel 17:23).

It’s different because it doesn’t happen in the context of war or any other imminent threat. Ahithophel realized that he had chosen the wrong leader — he chose Absolom over David — and when he realized this he knew his fate — he knew he would go down with Absolom. So, he went home, got his house in order — making sure his family was provided for — and then he hanged himself.


7. Judas (Matthew 27:3–10)

The death of Judas is the only clear example of suicide in the New Testament
Judas is complicated.

Judas betrayed Jesus. After Jesus was arrested Judas realized what he had done. He tried to give the money back to the chief priests. They wouldn’t take it back, so Judas hanged himself.

All those who knew Judas were obviously angry with him and felt like he got what he deserved. The truth seems more complicated.

Suffice it to say that this suicide is seen as a negative and Judas as a hopeless sinner.

When you look at the reports of suicide in the Bible it’s all over the map. I show you that mainly to say that there is no systematic teaching on suicide anywhere in the Bible. So we should tread lightly when trying to formulate our response to suicide.


Three Biblical-Theological Principles

There are a few biblical-theological principles that theologians have offered as foundational ideas when addressing suicide. I’ll touch briefly on the BIG THREE.


The Sanctity of Human Life

The FIRST and most obvious is the biblical teachings on the sanctity of human life.

From the beginning, God differentiated human life from all other life in that we were created in his image. And in the Ten Commandments — “You shall not kill” (Exodus 20:13).

In the New Testament, Paul writes, “Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your bodies” (1 Corinthians 6:19–20).

Human life is so valuable to God that he was willing to pay the ultimate price — his own Son — in order to redeem that life. If God values it that much, so should we.


The Sovereignty of God

THE SECOND is the theological concept of the sovereignty of God.

The consistent teaching of the Bible is that God created all things and is over all things.

Isaiah 45:7-9
I form light and create darkness; I make well-being and create calamity; I am the LORD, who does all these things. “Shower, O heavens, from above, and let the clouds rain down righteousness; let the earth open, that salvation and righteousness may bear fruit; let the earth cause them both to sprout; I the LORD have created it. Woe to him who strives with him who formed him, a pot among earthen pots! Does the clay say to him who forms it, ‘What are you making?’ or ‘Your work has no handles’?

Colossians 1:16-17
For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him. And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together.

The reasoning goes that since God is in control over all things, including all the days of your life, then it would be wrong to take your life “prematurely,” so to speak because in committing suicide you are thwarting the plan of God for your life.

Of course, the Bible also says, in Job 42:2 — “I know that you can do all things and that no purpose of yours can be thwarted.” So, the issue of how God’s sovereignty works is not completely settled.

In addition, although God says, “thou shalt not kill,” he goes on to instruct the Israelites to wipe out entire villages in battle, killing men, women, and children. So again, we are not exactly settled on the ramifications of something as straightforward as “thou shalt not kill.”

There seem to be exceptions.

Martyrs, for example, are not usually considered to be suicides.

Those who throw themselves in the line of fire to save fellow soldiers are not considered to be suicide.

You could make a case that dying in a heroic act like Samson or helping loved ones like Ahithophel are not completely negative in the scriptures.


The Depravity of Mankind

The THIRD theological tenet is that of the depravity of mankind.

Paul puts it this way — “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Rom. 3:23).

Here the idea is that we are born with a sinful nature — the consequences of the original sin by Adam and Eve. With this fallen nature then we are in no position to make decisions as important as taking human life — whether it’s ours or the life of another person.

We don’t have the mental capacity or breadth of knowledge or depth of wisdom to make such decisions. These decisions belong to God because he is all-knowing and we are finite in our understanding.

Someone said, “Suicide is a permanent solution to a temporary problem.”


History of Christian Thought on Suicide

All of Christian thought throughout history has largely been based on those three theological ideas, and not on anything the Bible says explicitly about suicide, because as I already mentioned, the Bible doesn’t say anything explicitly about suicide. In addition, the portrayal of suicide in the biblical narratives is somewhat mixed.


Early Christian Thought on Suicide

Christian thought on suicide has undergone significant changes throughout history, reflecting the influence of various cultural, theological, and social factors.

The early Christian church generally viewed suicide as a grave sin and a violation of the commandment "Thou shalt not kill." In his work "On the Soul and the Resurrection," the theologian St. Gregory of Nyssa wrote:

"For the act of suicide is forbidden to us, as being against the law of God and nature; and to destroy oneself is wicked, and to flee from life is cowardly, and to seek destruction is to oppose oneself to God's will, for he wishes us to be free from passions and to live virtuously."

Similarly, St. Augustine of Hippo, in his work "The City of God," condemned suicide as a violation of God's sovereignty over human life:

"For the will of God, by which the very hairs of our head are numbered, has a certain rule which cannot be resisted by any man, even if he would live forever. Whence it follows that no one should take his own life unless it is to avoid a worse evil."


Medieval Thought on Suicide

In the Middle Ages, some Christian theologians began to develop a more nuanced understanding of suicide. They argued that suicide might be a sin in some cases, but not in others. For example, in his "Summa Theologiae," St. Thomas Aquinas wrote:

"Sometimes a man who kills himself is not guilty of suicide, because he does not kill himself out of contempt for life, but because he cannot preserve his life without doing himself an injury."

Similarly, the theologian Peter Lombard wrote in his "Sentences":

"If a man kills himself because he cannot avoid doing so without sin, as when he cannot escape falling into the hands of the enemy who will torture him, he is not to be considered a self-murderer."


Renaissance and Enlightenment Thought on Suicide

During the Renaissance and Enlightenment periods, Christian attitudes towards suicide became even more sympathetic. For example, in his essay "Of Suicide," the philosopher David Hume wrote:

"When the pain of the present life is very great, a man has a new motive to quit it, and even the fear of hell is not sufficient to counterbalance his desire of deliverance."

Although the church was slow to change. The great reformer, Martin Luther, took a more traditional view of suicide. He said, “Suicide is a sin against God, who alone has the power to give and take life. It is a denial of His sovereignty and a rejection of His will."

Still, attitudes were changing.


Modern-Era Thought on Suicide

In the modern era, Christian attitudes towards suicide have moved more and more away from the act itself to concern for prevention and support for the families of victims.

Many modern-day Christian thinkers and leaders have emphasized the importance of compassion and understanding for those who struggle with mental illness or other forms of suffering.

In his book "Lament for a Son," the theologian Nicholas Wolterstorff wrote:

"Suicide is not the unpardonable sin. It is not the unforgivable sin. It is not the sin that is beyond the grace of God. God is sovereign and good.

Billy Graham wrote, "Suicide is not an escape from life, but an escape from the pain of life. We must always seek to address the underlying issues that lead to suicidal thoughts and offer hope and support to those who are struggling."

Pope John Paul II wrote, "The person who takes his own life is not beyond God's mercy and love. We must always remember that God's grace is greater than our sins and His love is stronger than death."

Bishop Desmund Tutu said, "Suicide is a complex issue that requires a holistic approach to prevention and intervention. We must address the social, economic, and environmental factors that contribute to suicidal thoughts and offer resources and support to those in need."


Three Biblical Takeaways

Here are a few takeaways from our study on the Bible and suicide.


1. Suicide, except in extreme cases, is consistently viewed as negative in Scripture.

It is portrayed as the tragic end to a life of pain and turmoil. It is NOT God’s ideal for your life.


2. Suicide has never been portrayed as an unpardonable sin.

In fact, after the suicide of Samson, Saul, and is armor-bearer, the people who knew them spoke highly of them. Even Judas repented before his suicide, and although the disciples speak harshly about Judas there is no indication that he was not forgiven for his betrayal and suicide.

Suicide is NOT an unpardonable sin. Suicide does NOT condemn you to hell. You do not lose your salvation if you commit suicide.

Some might say that a true Christian would never commit suicide, so if you commit suicide it’s not that you lost your salvation, it’s that you were never truly saved.

I don’t buy that reasoning. The problem with it is that there are other sins that devoted Christians commit all the time.

Suicide is NOT an unpardonable sin.


3. Finally, the Scriptures portray suicide as the tragic end to a life of pain and turmoil.

If you know someone who is dealing with suicidal thoughts – you need to know that they are in tremendous pain. You need to say something. Do NOT remain silent.



Here are a few resources if you or someone you love is struggling with suicidal thoughts.

Suicide Hotline
Dial 988 or Text HOME to 741741

American Foundation for Suicide Prevention

National Institute of Mental Health

Society for the Prevention of Teen Suicide

Suicide Prevention Resource Center

Crisis Text Line

Stop Minding Your Own Business



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