Here's What The Bible Really Says About Suicide

In at least 20 countries, according to The Guardian, suicide is treated as a crime. Of course, it's impossible to punish the victim if they succeed, but in some places, even an attempt at suicide can read to arrest, imprisonment, and fines. Further still, some countries do punish the victim, even though they're in their grave, by such acts as voiding their wills. Advocate Sarah Kline, co-founder of United for Global Mental Health, noted that laws such as this don't actually deter people from attempting or committing suicide, but rather, attach a stigma to a severe and preventable mental health crisis.

Here in the United States, there are suicide prevention hotlines and crisis centers, and helpful websites abound. There are medicines available to treat the mental health issues that sometimes lead to suicide; they're advertised on TV.

However, for many people, their attitudes about taking their own life are informed by their faith. And for the world's 2.3 billion Christians (per Pew Research Center) and 15 million Jews, they turn to the Bible for their direction on the issue. And as it turns out, the Bible's teachings on the subject are open to interpretation.

(If you or anyone you know is having suicidal thoughts, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline​ at​ 1-800-273-TALK (8255)​.)

The Bible does and does not condemn suicide

As is often the case when it comes to matters of doctrine and scripture, when it comes to the Bible's teachings on suicide, it's a matter of whom you ask.

For example, the Christian question-and-answer column Got Questions notes that suicide is mentioned directly only six times in the Bible, with five of the victims having been "wicked" before they took their own lives. However, the narrative attaches no value judgment to their actions.

However, the "Got Questions" writer also equates suicide to murder, noting that the person who takes their own life murders their self. And since the Bible forbids murder, then it must forbid suicide as well. Further, the writer points to several characters who were in the depths of despair and yet powered through, pointing to them as examples of eschewing suicide. And finally, the writer suggests that suicide rejects God's gift of life. "The Catechism of the Catholic Church" states, "We are stewards, not owners, of the life God has entrusted to us. It is not ours to dispose of." Most Christian denominations also recognize that suicide is not an issue of sinfulness so much as it is a result of overwhelming mental or emotional distress.

Suicide and Judaism

However, Paul Middleton, writing at the Bible Odyssey website, says that in the culture of the Biblical era, suicide was not seen as equal to murder, and was even viewed as a positive in the right circumstances. Further, he notes that nowhere does the text explicitly prohibit killing one's self. "The Judeo-Christian condemnation of suicide does not, therefore, begin in the Bible," he concludes.

The Jewish view on suicide appears to be slightly less nuanced than that of Christendom's. My Jewish Learning notes, as Middleton does, that there is no explicit prohibition against taking one's own life in the Jewish Scriptures. However, the writer also points out that Genesis 9:5 — "And for your lifeblood I will surely demand an accounting" — has been seen by certain Jewish teachers as something approaching an absolute prohibition against suicide.

Further, the writer points out that, in Jewish tradition, the preserving of a human life is the highest goal; that believers are forbidden from harming themselves (and suicide is the ultimate act of self-harm); and that the body belongs to God, not the user, and so suicide is an act of destroying what is rightfully God's. "Contemporary rulings from all three major religious streams [which is to say, Orthodox, Reform and Conservative branches of Judaism] have upheld the view that suicide is fundamentally incompatible with Jewish law and values," the writer concludes.