Who committed suicide in the Bible and does the church deem them to be in hell?

In the ancient world, suicide was sometimes accepted as an appropriate response to escape evil, avoid shame, express grief over a tragic death, or avoid capture or dishonor in battle. Overall, however, suicide was condemned. In the Old Testament, there are 6 examples of suicide:

  • Abimelech (Judges 9:54) – to avoid the shame of death at the hands of a woman
  • Samson (Judges 16:28-31) – to defeat those who imprisoned him
  • Saul (1Samuel 31:1-4) – to avoid the dishonor of being captured after he was wounded
  • Saul’s armor-bearer (1Samuel 31:5) – to atone for killing a king
  • Ahitophel (2Samuel 17:23) – in despair over deception being perpetrated around him
  • Zimri (1Kings 16:18) – to avoid capture by the army

Scripture does not write about these 6 in any condemning manner however. While some are not missed, others are actually praised as heroes. Of course the Book of Job suggests that Job contemplates suicide, however, he does not do so and instead places his trust in God. In the New Testament, the only suicide mentioned is that of Judas Iscariot (Matthew 27:3-5, Acts of the Apostles 1:18-20) who betrayed Jesus and proceeded to hang himself. Scripture suggests that this act is shameful. The infrequency of suicide in the Bible suggests that it was indeed frowned upon. In general, Scripture does not paint suicide as a viable option in times of despair but rather teaches us to place our trust in God. The Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches us that suicide is “gravely contrary to the just love of self” (CCC, 2281) and is “forbidden by the fifth commandment” (CCC, 2325). The Church does not condemn them to hell, however. In fact, the Catechism states, “We should not despair of the eternal salvation of persons who have taken their own lives. By ways known to him alone, God can provide the opportunity for salutary repentance. The Church prays for persons who have taken their own lives.” (CCC, 2283)

Joe Paprocki

Joe Paprocki, D.Min., is National Consultant for Faith Formation at Loyola Press in Chicago. He has over 30 years of experience in pastoral ministry in the Archdiocese of Chicago. Joe is the author of numerous books on pastoral ministry and catechesis, including The Bible Blueprint, Living the Mass, and bestsellers The Catechist's Toolbox and A Well-Built Faith (all from Loyola Press).


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