A Question I Was Asked:

"How Often Does Suicide Occur in the Bible?"

The Question:

How many people in the Bible do you know of, other than Judas Iscariot and King Saul, who took their own lives? Where are these instances found in Scripture? Thank you for your response.

UK Apologetics Reply:

Okay. Obviously, the teaching of the commandment is You Shalt Not Murder, that would apply to self-murder as much as the other kind. Having said that, suicide is not the unforgivable sin.

We need to consider a few Scriptures. First of all, Judges:

52. Abimelek went to the tower and attacked it. But as he approached the entrance to the tower to set it on fire,
53. a woman dropped an upper millstone on his head and cracked his skull.
54. Hurriedly he called to his armor-bearer, “Draw your sword and kill me, so that they can’t say, ‘A woman killed him.’” So his servant ran him through, and he died. (Judges 9:52-54, NIV).

In a sense that was suicide, however it could also be considered to be murder.

Now let us consider Samson:

29. Then Samson reached toward the two central pillars on which the temple stood. Bracing himself against them, his right hand on the one and his left hand on the other,
30. Samson said, “Let me die with the Philistines!” Then he pushed with all his might, and down came the temple on the rulers and all the people in it. Thus he killed many more when he died than while he lived. (Judges 16:29-30).

Again, the death of Samson could be considered as suicide yet Samson accomlished much more than that in his death. He destroyed many idolatrous worshippers as well as their temple. He provided a testimony that God will avenge the mistreatment of His servants.

Now we come to the death of Saul:

4. Saul said to his armor-bearer, “Draw your sword and run me through, or these uncircumcised fellows will come and run me through and abuse me.” But his armor-bearer was terrified and would not do it; so Saul took his own sword and fell on it.
5. When the armor-bearer saw that Saul was dead, he too fell on his sword and died with him.
6. So Saul and his three sons and his armor-bearer and all his men died together that same day. (1 Samuel 31:4-6).

This story of the death of Saul is repeated in 1 Chronicles 10:3-7. So, yes, this was suicide by both Saul and his armor-bearer.

2 Samuel 1:2-16 contains a somewhat differing version of the death of Saul in which it was a passing Amalekite who finally killed the seriously injured Saul (who had not yet died despite falling on his sword) but it remains clear that he (Saul) wished for his own death. The probable explanation is that there was probably a short gap between 1 Samuel 31, verses 4 and 5, and it was during that gap that the Amalekite arrived on the scene.

Then there is the case of Ahithophel who recommended that he be allowed to choose 12,000 men, to pursue King David and to 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..." (2 Samuel 17:1-29).

So there again that was suicide.

In 1 King 16:15-20, Zimri, king of Tirzah, saw his city besieged and taken. He was distressed at the sins that he had committed, so he "went into the citadel of the king's house and burned the king's house down upon himself with fire, and died..."

So all the above are clear enough. We might also think of Elijah who, upon hearing that Jezebel planned to have him killed, became very depressed and, during this time of depression, asked the Lord to take his life (see 1 Kings 19:4-16). That was not suicide, of course, just a temporary depression and - of course, the Lord had no intention of doing that.

Now we come to the New Testament and there is only really one instance of suicide, although Revelation 9:1-10 is interesting and we will close by briefly looking at that.

First, Judas. After Judas had betrayed Jesus in return for 30 pieces of silver, he hanged himself:

5. So Judas threw the money into the temple and left. Then he went away and hanged himself. (Matthew 27:5).

Acts also refers to this, adding a little more information:

18. (With the payment he received for his wickedness, Judas bought a field; there he fell headlong, his body burst open and all his intestines spilled out.
19. Everyone in Jerusalem heard about this, so they called that field in their language Akeldama, that is, Field of Blood.) (Acts 1:18-19).

A few have claimed that there is confusion between Matthew 27 and Acts 1, but there is no confusion whatsoever. What ultimately occurred in Acts 1 was the result of Judas hanging himself. It was suicide, plain and simple. Maybe Judas had hanged himself from a tree which hung over a ravine. The rope broke and he fell to the rocks below, splitting open his body, or something like that. Whatever the precise explanation, it need not detain us - Judas killed himself, pure and simple.

Finally, in Revelation 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."

This, of course, is not suicide at all but a widespread acute depression because of the suffering which some of these unrepentant people will have brought on themselves.

So, to conclude this matter, yes, there are a very few instances of suicide in the Bible but not really very many.

Theological Position

Okay, let us look at the basic Catholic and Protestant positions on this.

The Catholic position, loosely, holds that, since only the Church can forgive sins, a person must do all that he can to insure that he enters eternity with his sins forgiven. This is the basic idea behind administering "the last rites" to the dying. So, if a person commits suicide, then presumably he or she has not had these "last rites" administered, and he or she enters eternity with unconfessed sins (including and perhaps especially the final act of taking one's own life). Under Catholic church law this, therefore, becomes a very serious business. Most Catholics will refuse to be drawn on this but, if one is going to be consistent, Catholicism does appear to believe that these people will not be saved although - theoretically - purgatory might be a possibility.

Without question, the Protestant view of how sins are forgiven is much more in line with Scripture than the Catholic position (whether Roman or Orthodox). Since Protestantism holds that Scripture alone has the final authority (rather than any church denomination, council or appointed person), then Christ alone is considered as the redeemer of mankind - end of story. A person's sins are considered as forgiven the very moment he or she confesses Jesus as Saviour (see, for example, John 3:16; Romans 10:9-13; Ephesians 2:8-9). Of course, this must be real repentance and confession, truly coming from the heart (not this "just repeat this prayer after me..." nonsense). Moreover, those forgiven sins will include past, present and future sins (Catholicism always has a problem with the forgiveness of future sins since, within Catholicism, one must faithfully perform various deeds and duties, including observance of the sacraments to qualify for salvation). Within Protestantism, if a person has accepted Jesus, all of his or her sins are forgiven, including suicide. Yes, a dying person who has taken his or her own life may still repent.

However, there is also the matter of the 'don't destroy the temple of Holy Spirit' Scripture. Let us look at that:

16. Don’t you know that you yourselves are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in your midst?
17. If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy that person; for God’s temple is sacred, and you together are that temple. (1 Corinthians 3:16-17).

This Scripture is the reason that true Christians just don't take their own lives in the overwhelming majority of cases. This is applicable to Christians; it is a most serious offence to take the life of a person who walks with God and who has received the Holy Spirit. That bars suicide for any Christian. Do I believe that any true Christian has ever taken his or her own life? Probably they have, on very rare occasions. God alone will be the final Judge in those cases. If such a person truly belonged to Christ, He will show mercy.
Robin A. Brace. January, 12th 2011.