A powerful image capturing a Bible open to verses on forgiveness, juxtaposed with a somber photograph of a prison cell, symbolizing the journey towards forgiveness for murderers.

What Does The Bible Say About Forgiving Murderers?

Murder is an extremely serious sin that has eternal consequences according to the Bible. However, God calls us to forgive even the worst of offenses. This article will examine what the Bible says about forgiving murderers and other heinous crimes.

If you’re short on time, here’s a quick answer to your question: The Bible teaches that we should forgive others as God has forgiven us, even for terrible sins like murder. However, forgiveness does not mean removing earthly consequences for crimes.

Murder Is a Grievous Sin

The Ten Commandments Forbid Murder

The sixth of the Ten Commandments given to Moses by God clearly states, “You shall not murder” (Exodus 20:13). This commandment forbids the unlawful taking of human life. As human beings are created in the image of God (Genesis 1:27), murder is a grave offense against God and carries severe consequences.

Throughout the Old Testament, God condemns murder and commands the death penalty for those who commit premeditated murder (Exodus 21:12-14). The book of Proverbs also warns against murder, stating that God hates “hands that shed innocent blood” (Proverbs 6:17).

Murder pollutes the land with bloodguilt and invites God’s judgment (Numbers 35:33-34).

Jesus Equates Anger with Murder

In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus takes the commandment against murder to a deeper level. He warns that anger in the heart can lead to murder: “You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘You shall not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.’

But I tell you that anyone who is angry with a brother or sister will be subject to judgment” (Matthew 5:21-22).

Jesus equates unjust anger with murder, both deserving of judgment. He emphasizes that reconciliation and forgiveness should characterize relationships among believers, rather than resentment and rage (Matthew 5:23-24).

While anger itself is not a sin, it can easily lead to sins like insulting words and murder if not dealt with properly.

Warnings Against Murder in the New Testament

The New Testament authors echo Jesus’ stern warnings against murder. The apostle John states clearly, “Anyone who hates a brother or sister is a murderer” (1 John 3:15). The book of Revelation lists murderers among those who will suffer the “second death” and be excluded from heaven (Revelation 21:8).

Paul instructs believers to rid themselves of sins like hatred, discord and fits of rage (Galatians 5:19-21). He categorizes murderers among the lawless and disobedient who ignore God’s truths (1 Timothy 1:8-10).

Instead, Christians are called to love their enemies, do good to those who harm them, and overcome evil with good (Matthew 5:44, Romans 12:14, 21).

God Commands Us to Forgive

Forgive Others as God Has Forgiven You

Jesus teaches us in the Lord’s Prayer to ask God to “forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us” (Matthew 6:12). This implies that we should forgive others to the same extent that God has forgiven us. As sinners, we have all fallen short of God’s standards (Romans 3:23).

Yet God chose to forgive us anyway through Christ’s sacrifice on the cross. As recipients of God’s unlimited grace and mercy, we should extend the same grace to others, even those who commit horrible sins against us like murder.

The Parable of the Unforgiving Servant

In Matthew 18:21-35, Jesus tells a parable contrasting God’s forgiveness of our large debts with our occasional unwillingness to forgive the small debts of others. The servant in the story receives forgiveness for an enormous debt he cannot pay, yet he refuses to forgive another servant’s small debt to him.

This illustrates Christ’s expectation that we forgive others from the heart, just as God has forgiven our great moral debts against Him (Matthew 18:35). This includes forgiving severe sins like murder, no matter how difficult it may be.

Bless Those Who Persecute You

Jesus said we should “love our enemies and pray for those who persecute you” (Matthew 5:44). By blessing and praying for our enemies, including murderers, we demonstrate Christ-like sacrificial love and trust that God can work even in the hearts of those who commit evil acts.

According to GotQuestions.org, praying for murderers opens the door for God to draw them to repentance and faith through His kindness.

Forgiveness Does Not Remove Earthly Consequences

Submit to Authorities

The Bible teaches that even though we are called to forgive others, there are still earthly consequences for criminal actions. Romans 13:1-7 reminds us that governing authorities have been instituted by God to carry out justice. We are called to submit to them and not take justice into our own hands.

So while a murderer can receive forgiveness from God through repentance, they are still subject to the law of the land.

This means they should face lawful punishment like imprisonment. Forgiveness does not overrule the need for justice and protecting society. Christians should support the governing authorities in carrying out proper punishment of criminals according to the law.

Balancing Justice and Mercy

However, the Bible also teaches us to temper justice with mercy. Even though punishment is warranted, the purpose should be correcting the criminal if possible, not just punishment for its own sake. Philemon provides a good example of this – Paul urges forgiveness and leniency toward the runaway slave Onesimus while not denying he still owes restitution.

So when it comes to punishments for murderers and criminals, there should be a balance between justice, public safety, punishment, and opportunity for reform. As an example, in the United States between 2007-2017, the average prison sentence for murder was 20 years. This aims to ensure lengthy punishment but also leaves hope that after serving their time, even murderers can be reformed and become productive citizens again with the right rehabilitation.

Examples of Forgiving Extreme Crimes

Jesus Forgives Those Who Crucified Him

As Jesus was being crucified, he prayed to God saying, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing” (Luke 23:34). Despite experiencing immense physical pain and rejection, Jesus exemplified unconditional love and forgiveness – even towards those killing him.

His actions and words set a profound example for all followers on forgiving even the most extreme injustices committed against us.

Stephen Forgives His Murderers

Stephen was the first Christian martyr, stoned to death after being falsely accused of blasphemy. As he was being stoned in Acts 7:60, Stephen prayed, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them”. Like Jesus, Stephen forgave his killers while facing death.

This demonstrates that with God’s help, we can forgive even those who severely persecute and harm us.

Corrie ten Boom Forgives a Concentration Camp Guard

Corrie ten Boom was a Dutch Christian who helped many Jews escape the Holocaust. She was sent to the Ravensbrück concentration camp and endured immense cruelty. After the war, ten Boom preached God’s forgiveness and even forgave one of Ravensbrück’s cruelest guards when he approached her after a church service.

This inspires and challenges all Christians to let go of bitterness and forgive people who have committed horrific crimes against them or their loved ones.


In summary, the Bible makes it clear that murder is an extremely grievous sin. However, God also calls us to the difficult task of forgiving even the worst offenses against us. Forgiving does not mean removing earthly consequences for crimes.

But through God’s grace, we can find freedom in letting go of bitterness and vengeance. The examples of Jesus, Stephen, and Corrie ten Boom inspire us to extend mercy even when it seems impossible.

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