Killing and the Phinehas Priesthood
Part 1
Copyright 1994 - 2018 Bill's Bible Basics

Authored By  :
Bill Kochman

Published On :
November 12, 1997

Last Updated :
February 25, 2018


Beliefs Of The Phinehas Priesthood, Violence In the Pacific Northwest, Story Of Biblical Phinehas In Numbers 25, Large Difference Between Old And New Testaments, Conquest Of The Promised Land, Sceptre Of Judah, Jesus: Lion Of The Tribe Of Judah, Canaan Conquest: Extermination Of Pagans In The Old Testament, Different Words Translated As "Murder" And "Kill" In The Old Testament, Justifiable Homicide, Penal Colonies And Cities Of Refuge, Nine Hebrew Words Translated As "Kill", Jesus' Clear Message Of Love And Forgiveness In New Testament




The following article is based on an interview I watched more than twenty years ago on American television where former CBS news anchorman Dan Rather interviewed one of the incarcerated leaders of the Phinehas Priesthood. From what this detained member said during the broadcast, it seems that the Phinehas Priesthood was a loosely-structured organization comprised of fundamentalist Christians who had declared open war on the US government. Their ideology seemed to stem from a 1990 book by Richard Kelly Hoskins called "Vigilantes of Christendom: The Story of the Phineas Priesthood". In the book, members of the priesthood embraced Christian Identity beliefs. This included opposition to interracial relationships, the mixing of races, homosexuality, and abortion. In addition, the group opposed multiculturalism, and was likewise anti-Semitic.

However, the actual 1990s group wasn't limited to spiritual warfare alone. The members in fact engaged in real physical warfare. This civilian militia believed that killing, robbing banks, committing assassinations and other violent acts were condoned by God, because in their view, the US government is evil, ungodly and against the Bible. For this reason, they were classified as terrorists. Among their deeds during the 1990s, they bombed numerous abortion clinics in the Pacific Northwest, bombed The Spokesman-Review newspaper in Spokane, robbed banks, and made plans to blow up FBI buildings as well.

At that time, the organization appeared to be comprised of individual cells which acted independently of each other. However, today, as I was updating this article twenty-one years later, I discovered some new online information which suggests that the four members who were detained back then may have actually been the full membership of the group. All four of them were given life sentences in 1997 and 1998. No other information is available regarding this group.

Regarding the name of the group, as Hoskins points out in his book, they were named after an Old Testament Israelite by the name of Phinehas. He was the son of Eleazar, thus making him the grandson of the high priest Aaron, the brother of Moses. You will find the story of Phinehas in Numbers twenty-five. At that time, Israel had once again fallen into apostasy. Not only were they fornicating with the women of Moab, but they were also worshipping their false gods as well. Naturally, God's anger was kindled against Israel because of this. Thus, as restitution for their sins, Moses ordered that all of the offenders be killed, and their heads hung up to dry in the Sun.

In the meantime, another Israelite foolishly took a Midianite woman into his tent in order to fornicate with her. Phinehas happened to see them. So, he grabbed a javelin, went into the tent, and plunged it through both of them. In this way, the plague was stayed in Israel, and God's wrath was turned away from them. Due to his valor and zealousness, as part of his reward, Phinehas and his descendants were given a priesthood.

Now, concerning the 1990s group, the Phinehas Priesthood, let me state the following. While I can agree with some of their beliefs, particularly in regards to their view that the U.S. government is corrupt, evil, ungodly and opposed to Christian beliefs -- although the current Trump administration appears to be trying to turn the situation around, at least on the surface -- beyond that, I would have to say that the members of this organization clearly misunderstood the Scriptures.

Anyone who has read a significant portion of the Bible knows that there are some vast differences between what happened in the Old Testament where the Israelites were constantly at war with their enemies, and the pacifistic message of love and forgiveness which we are given in the New Testament by both Jesus Himself, and the Apostles and Disciples who continued to propagate His message following His return to Heaven.

As I amply point out in articles such as "The Fruits of Disobedience", while it may be difficult for some of us to fully understand, it does seem that God condoned killing in the Old Testament. Its purpose was so that the Hebrews could eventually inherit the Promised Land of Canaan, later to be known as Israel. In so doing, the Israelites continued the lineage of the tribe of Judah up through King David, until the eventual birth of our Savior about one thousand years later. Jacob -- who was also known as Israel -- foresaw the arrival of the Savior far in the future. Thus, prior to his death, he made the following prophecy regarding the tribe of Judah:

"The sceptre shall not depart from Judah, nor a lawgiver from between his feet, until Shiloh come; and unto him shall the gathering of the people be."
Genesis 49:10, KJV


As you may know, it is for this reason that Jesus is referred to as "the Lion of the tribe of Juda" and "the Root of David" in the Book of Revelation, as we see by the following verse:

"And one of the elders saith unto me, Weep not: behold, the Lion of the tribe of Juda, the Root of David, hath prevailed to open the book, and to loose the seven seals thereof."
Revelation 5:5, KJV


As the leader of the Phinehas Priesthood explained during his interview, God seems to have looked at the bloody wars to conquer the Promised Land as the necessary elimination of the pagan, idol-worshipping nations of the Canaanites who rejected the true God of Israel. The Lord did not view this as wholesale murder, but rather as a necessary cleansing of the land. He viewed it just as a bug exterminator would view a house infested with cockroaches. While this analogy may surprise and perhaps offend some people, it is nevertheless what the Bible seems to indicate. For example, consider the following words which were spoken to the Children of Israel by Moses, on the final day of the fortieth year when they were about to cross the Jordan River in order to enter the land of Canaan:

"Understand therefore this day, that the LORD thy God is he which goeth over before thee; as a consuming fire he shall destroy them, and he shall bring them down before thy face: so shalt thou drive them out, and destroy them quickly, as the LORD hath said unto thee."
Deuteronomy 9:3, KJV


The word "destroy" is derived from the Hebrew word "shamad" which means to destroy, exterminate or annihilate. Just as the Germans sought to exterminate the Jews more than seventy years ago, likewise, the ancient Israelites were ordered by the Lord to do the very same thing to the idol-worshipping Canaanites. As I explain in "God of Peace, God of War", it basically amounted to total genocide. Tragically, as I point out in "The Fruits of Disobedience", they failed miserably in this task, and they suffered for it as well.

In the very next verse, the Lord warns them to not become puffed up in their own conceit, thinking that they will have accomplished this by their own hand, or because they deserve it. He clearly informs them that the only reason why they will be able to drive out the Canaanites, will be because the Lord is punishing the Canaanites for their wickedness. What a contrast in attitude between then and now, where we see the haughty Israelis of today who depend not only upon their own military strength and superiority, but also upon military alliances which they forge with other nations, such as the United States of America. Consider this verse:

"Speak not thou in thine heart, after that the LORD thy God hath cast them out from before thee, saying, For my righteousness the LORD hath brought me in to possess this land: but for the wickedness of these nations the LORD doth drive them out from before thee."
Deuteronomy 9:4, KJV


So as you can see, the extermination of the Canaanites was apparently not considered murder in the Lord's eyes. Murder is a conscious, premeditated act which is often motivated by greed, lust or some other negative human desire. According to what we read in the Scriptures, the conquest of Canaan was viewed by the Lord as a righteous cause, unlike many wars which have been fought by violent, wicked men since then.

As you may know, there have been a number of heated debates regarding the correct meaning of the word "kill", as it is used in the original Commandments which were given to Moses on Mount Sinai. In the Book of Exodus we read the following well-known verse in the twentieth chapter:

"Thou shalt not kill."
Exodus 20:13, KJV


The word "kill" is derived from the Hebrew word "ratsach". Sixteen times it is translated as "slayer", fourteen times as "murderer", five times as "kill", and then in other ways even lesser times. As we can see, the overall idea seems to be a conscious choosing to take another person's life. In other words, murder. Other examples where "ratsach" is used to mean manslayer or murderer can be found in the following verses. Please notice that while the Lord did command the Israelites to not murder, there were situations in the Old Testament where it was permissible. This kind of murder is what would be referred to as "justifiable homicide". This is still recognized today, and is not punishable by law in some areas of the world, such as in the Muslim countries. They call it "honor killing":

"And they shall be unto you cities for refuge from the avenger; that the manslayer die not, until he stand before the congregation in judgment."
Numbers 35:12, KJV


"But if the slayer shall at any time come without the border of the city of his refuge, whither he was fled; And the revenger of blood find him without the borders of the city of his refuge, and the revenger of blood kill the slayer; he shall not be guilty of blood:"
Numbers 35:26-27, KJV


I find the previous verses interesting, because not only do they discuss justifiable homicide, but they also demonstrate that penal colonies actually have a basis in the Scriptures. Rather than build one building to house dangerous, violent criminals, the Lord commanded the ancient Israelites to set aside entire cities for them, where they could flee while they awaited their judgment. Just imagine if you were a criminal in those days. There were no hot meals served, or guards to protect you from other criminals. You were really on your own. We can only wonder how many criminals lived long enough to be properly judged. Notice too that it says that if they were to come out of the penal cities, or the cities of refuse, they were fair game for those individuals who sought to slay them for their crimes.

What makes this issue of killing and murder more difficult for the English reader is the fact that I have discovered that there are actually at least nine different Hebrew words which are used in the Old Testament for our one English word "kill". For example, in the case of animal sacrifices, the word used for slay or kill is "shachat". From the research I have conducted, it appears that this word is only used to refer to a sacrificial killing by the Levitical priesthood. It is not used for anything else. Consider the following two verses:

"And thou shalt kill the bullock before the LORD, by the door of the tabernacle of the congregation."
Exodus 29:11, KJV


"So kill the passover, and sanctify yourselves, and prepare your brethren, that they may do according to the word of the LORD by the hand of Moses."
2 Chronicles 35:6, KJV


One unusual occurrence I found was with the Hebrew word "naqaph". Normally, it means to compass, to go round about or to go about. However, in the following verse, it is used like "sachat" to kill a sacrifice:

"Woe to Ariel, to Ariel, the city where David dwelt! add ye year to year; let them kill sacrifices."
Isaiah 29:1, KJV


Another word translated into English as "kill" is the Hebrew word "muwth". This word is specifically used in regards to Pharaoh's orders for the Hebrew midwives to kill all of the Hebrew male babies. It is also used when the Israelites accuse Moses of bringing them out of Egypt just to kill them in the wilderness. In these two examples, it appears to be used to describe massive or wholesale killing as opposed to just killing one person:

"And he said, When ye do the office of a midwife to the Hebrew women, and see them upon the stools; if it be a son, then ye shall kill him: but if it be a daughter, then she shall live."
Exodus 1:16, KJV


"And the children of Israel said unto them, Would to God we had died by the hand of the LORD in the land of Egypt, when we sat by the flesh pots, and when we did eat bread to the full; for ye have brought us forth into this wilderness, to kill this whole assembly with hunger."
Exodus 16:3, KJV


However, "muwth" is also used to mean die, or to make dead as in the following example verses:

"But of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, thou shalt not eat of it: for in the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die."
Genesis 2:17, KJV


"And the serpent said unto the woman, Ye shall not surely die:"
Genesis 3:4, KJV


"And all the days that Adam lived were nine hundred and thirty years: and he died."
Genesis 5:5, KJV


Another Hebrew word used is "harag". This word is used in the story where Abram tells the Egyptians that Sarai is his sister because he fears that they might kill him otherwise. This word is also used where Rebekah warns Jacob that his brother Esau is seeking to kill him. It is also used in the case of Moses killing the Egyptian. The overall idea here seems to be that "harag" is used to signify killing which is an act of revenge, retribution or to unrightfully obtain something from another person. In fact, the Lord used this word with Himself in the Book of Exodus when He says He will kill those people who afflict the widow or the fatherless child. Consider the following group of verses:

"And the men of the place asked him of his wife; and he said, She is my sister: for he feared to say, She is my wife; lest, said he, the men of the place should kill me for Rebekah; because she was fair to look upon."
Genesis 26:7, KJV


"And these words of Esau her elder son were told to Rebekah: and she sent and called Jacob her younger son, and said unto him, Behold, thy brother Esau, as touching thee, doth comfort himself, purposing to kill thee."
Genesis 27:42, KJV


"And he said, Who made thee a prince and a judge over us? intendest thou to kill me, as thou killedst the Egyptian? And Moses feared, and said, Surely this thing is known."
Exodus 2:14, KJV


"And my wrath shall wax hot, and I will kill you with the sword; and your wives shall be widows, and your children fatherless."
Exodus 22:24, KJV


In the case of slaughtering or killing livestock for food, we find the word "zabach" used. It may mean killing animals which are normally reserved for sacrifice, but I am not certain at this point. Consider these two verses:

"Notwithstanding thou mayest kill and eat flesh in all thy gates, whatsoever thy soul lusteth after, according to the blessing of the LORD thy God which he hath given thee: the unclean and the clean may eat thereof, as of the roebuck, and as of the hart."
Deuteronomy 12:15, KJV


"If the place which the LORD thy God hath chosen to put his name there be too far from thee, then thou shalt kill of thy herd and of thy flock, which the LORD hath given thee, as I have commanded thee, and thou shalt eat in thy gates whatsoever thy soul lusteth after."
Deuteronomy 12:21, KJV


We also find the word "tabach" used to mean the general killing of animals, not necessarily for food purposes, and also when comparing the killing of people to a slaughter of animals in the following verses:

"And when Joseph saw Benjamin with them, he said to the ruler of his house, Bring these men home, and slay, and make ready; for these men shall dine with me at noon."
Genesis 43:16, KJV


"If a man shall steal an ox, or a sheep, and kill it, or sell it; he shall restore five oxen for an ox, and four sheep for a sheep."
Exodus 22:1, KJV


"But I was like a lamb or an ox that is brought to the slaughter; and I knew not that they had devised devices against me, saying, Let us destroy the tree with the fruit thereof, and let us cut him off from the land of the living, that his name may be no more remembered."
Jeremiah 11:19, KJV


"Howl, ye shepherds, and cry; and wallow yourselves in the ashes, ye principal of the flock: for the days of your slaughter and of your dispersions are accomplished; and ye shall fall like a pleasant vessel."
Jeremiah 25:34, KJV


"I will bring them down like lambs to the slaughter, like rams with he goats."
Jeremiah 51:40, KJV


In the case of the messianic prophecy concerning Jesus that is found in the fifty-third chapter of the Book of Isaiah, the variation "tebach" -- instead of "tabach" -- is used, as we see here:

"He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth: he is brought as a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before her shearers is dumb, so he openeth not his mouth."
Isaiah 53:7, KJV


In the story concerning the chastisement of the sodomite Benjamites of Gibeah by the other tribes of Israel, it appears that "chalal" might mean the killing or slaying of one group of people by another group of people, as we see by these two verses:

"And the children of Benjamin went out against the people, and were drawn away from the city; and they began to smite of the people, and kill, as at other times, in the highways, of which one goeth up to the house of God, and the other to Gibeah in the field, about thirty men of Israel."
Judges 20:31, KJV


"And when the men of Israel retired in the battle, Benjamin began to smite and kill of the men of Israel about thirty persons: for they said, Surely they are smitten down before us, as in the first battle."
Judges 20:39, KJV


Lastly, we find the Hebrew word "nakah" in the following verses. According to the Brown, Driver, Briggs, Gesenius Hebrew Aramaic English Lexicon, it means to smite, slay, kill, beat or slaughter with a few other lesser-used meanings as well. The only common denominator I see in all of these verses is that they all refer to the killing of just one person, that is, Cain, Joseph and Goliath:

"And the LORD said unto him, Therefore whosoever slayeth Cain, vengeance shall be taken on him sevenfold. And the LORD set a mark upon Cain, lest any finding him should kill him."
Genesis 4:15, KJV


"And Reuben heard it, and he delivered him out of their hands; and said, Let us not kill him."
Genesis 37:21, KJV


"If he be able to fight with me, and to kill me, then will we be your servants: but if I prevail against him, and kill him, then shall ye be our servants, and serve us."
1 Samuel 17:9, KJV


"And the men of Israel said, Have ye seen this man that is come up? surely to defy Israel is he come up: and it shall be, that the man who killeth him, the king will enrich him with great riches, and will give him his daughter, and make his father's house free in Israel."
1 Samuel 17:25, KJV


So then, in all, there are at least nine different Hebrew words found in the Old Testament which are all translated as "kill" in the English language: chalal, harag, muwth, nakah, naqaph, ratsach, shachat, tabach and zabach. Being as I am by no means a Hebrew scholar, I am not sure of their precise meanings, and I am only making educated guesses based on how they are used in the previous verses, and based on what is stated in the Brown, Driver, Briggs, Gesenius Hebrew Aramaic English Lexicon. If there is one thing we can definitely see, it is that Hebrew is a much more precise and exact language than English. We can also determine that the issue of killing, and the kind of killing involved, was taken very seriously by the Lord and the Hebrews, or Israelites.

Having now thoroughly examined the Old Testament examples of killing, let's take a look at what the New Testament has to say regarding this same issue. In my view, the contrast in messages is quite clear. With Christ's arrival on Earth, through His own preaching, life, and ultimate example on the Cross at Calvary, He made it quite clear that this type of violence was no longer condoned by or acceptable to God.

As I explain in articles such as "Owning Guns: What Saith the Scriptures?", nowhere do we see Jesus encouraging any kind of physical violence, revolt, or war against the system of His day. Some people wanted to make Him their king after He had done some miracles. The Zealots wanted Him to become their leader so that He could lead a revolt against their Roman occupiers. However, in every case, Jesus refused to yield to their demands. He was not here to declare a physical war, but only a spiritual one. His was a war to win souls out of the clutches of Satan the deceiver, as is ours. Even up to the moment of His betrayal and death on the Cross, He made this message very clear through His own example.

You will recall that when Peter smote off the ear of Malchus, the servant of the high priest in the Mount of Olives, much to the amazement of those present, Jesus immediately healed him to once again show that He did not condone such violence. He in fact rebuked Peter by saying that anyone who takes the sword shall be killed by the sword. As the Lord explained to Peter, this was also to ensure that His Father's Will would be fulfilled by His death on a Roman Cross. When Jesus was questioned before the Roman procurator Pontius Pilate, He likewise stated that His Kingdom is not of this world, and that for this reason, His servants would not fight to save Him from His impending death. Consider the following group of verses which confirm all of these points:

"Then said he unto them, But now, he that hath a purse, let him take it, and likewise his scrip: and he that hath no sword, let him sell his garment, and buy one. For I say unto you, that this that is written must yet be accomplished in me, And he was reckoned among the transgressors: for the things concerning me have an end. And they said, Lord, behold, here are two swords. And he said unto them, It is enough . . . And one of them smote the servant of the high priest, and cut off his right ear. And Jesus answered and said, Suffer ye thus far. And he touched his ear, and healed him."
Luke 22:36-38, 50-51, KJV


"Then Simon Peter having a sword drew it, and smote the high priest's servant, and cut off his right ear. The servant's name was Malchus. Then said Jesus unto Peter, Put up thy sword into the sheath: the cup which my Father hath given me, shall I not drink it?"
John 18:10-11, KJV


"And, behold, one of them which were with Jesus stretched out his hand, and drew his sword, and struck a servant of the high priest's, and smote off his ear. Then said Jesus unto him, Put up again thy sword into his place: for all they that take the sword shall perish with the sword. Thinkest thou that I cannot now pray to my Father, and he shall presently give me more than twelve legions of angels? But how then shall the scriptures be fulfilled, that thus it must be?"
Matthew 26:51-54, KJV


Please go to part two for the conclusion of this article.

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