The Sixth Commandment: Thou Shall Not Kill

Someone once told me, "There are religious people (including Apostolics) who would have no problem serving their country but just don't want to be put in any position where they would have to directly harm others.” Many make such statements because of Exodus 20:13 "Thou shalt not kill." KJV However, most interpret this verse incorrectly and assert that that Christians should not defend themselves, enlist in military duty, or use this verse to promote anti-Capital Punishment sentiments. All of the above are not interpretations that are arrived at through scripture; rather they may be part of an emotional plea.

Although, the KJV is very explicit in its terminology, it leaves much out. In fact, the Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament says that the KJV is "too general." The Jewish Tanakh renders Exodus 20:13 as most modern English translations, "You shall not murder”. Consider these various English translations of Exodus 20:13:

Exodus 20:13 You shall not murder. NKJV
Exodus 20:13 You shall not murder. NASB
Exodus 20:13 You shall not murder. NRSV
Exodus 20:13 You shall not murder. ESV
Exodus 20:13 You shall not murder. NIV
Exodus 20:13 Do not commit murder. TEV

I could list more; however, the point is placed. The term murder and kill denote two different things in the minds of any individual. Kill, in my mind means to destroy the vital or active qualities of anything. Murder, however, should refer to unlawful and malicious premeditated killing. To murder is to kill, but to kill does not necessarily include murder.

David Guzik distinguishes murder as, “Murder is the taking of life without legal justification (execution after due process) or moral justification (killing in defense).”[1] For example, in self-defense one man shot and killed another, this is not murder. Whereas, a burglar invaded the home of the Jones’ and killed both parents, this would be premeditated or at least thoughtful, hateful murder.The original Hebrew texts only have two words in verse 13-- al jx*r+T! ((H3808 and H7523). The first Hebrew word, lo, is a simple adverb that means no or not. The second, ratsach, is a verb in the Qal sense which means premeditated murder. Dr. Spiros Zodihates says this is of ratsach, " A verb meaning to murder…It is used to indicate a premeditated murder (Deu_5:17; 1Ki_21:19; Jer_7:9" [2] The BDB says ratsach in the Qal sense refers to, “murder, slay, with premeditation;” [3] Wilson's Old Testament Word Studies tells us that ratsach means to slay in a violent unjust manner; to murder. Wilson says that it is never used or applicable in the sense of killing brute beasts.

Although wooden, the text literally could be "Thou Shalt Murder, Not." In the original Hebrew texts and our English versions the omission of the sentence object is missing. In terms of grammar that is known as an ellipsis, where there is words missing to complete the grammatical construction. There is no object in the sentence to show who or what is not to be murdered.

Paradoxically, this could help us in understanding, further, that God, here, had a definite idea in mind when He inspired Moses to write, i.e. do not murder. If God would have said, “You shall not murder women” then we would see the object as women only and conclude that it is apropos to kill anything else. However, it is left open, thus murder in anyway or to any person is emphatically prohibited by God.

America, is essentially an empire rather than a mere nation, it is a major political unit having territory of hegemonic extent over many peoples, using various dialects, under a single sovereign authority. Much like Alexander the Great and Rome before it, the overextension of national assets to claim and preserve territory will eventually affect the American empire in much the same way it did with Alexander the Great. This being so, it is quite possible, that killing to extend empire or commerce is indeed murder and not the morally justifiable killing of war in defense of country.

This article presupposes that the reader has certain moral compunctions towards such things as murder, including abortion. Abortion, “the second most common surgical procedure in the U.S., circumcision being the first,”[4] is not morally justifiable; rather it is the taking of life from another created being. Every nation should heed the Law of God in these matters.

As we have seen the concept of the Hebrew word for kill is very broad, yet in the Qal verbal sense it strictly points to premeditated murder and not self defense. The sixth commandment concerns our own and our neighbor’s life. The Hebrews understood it as meaning more. The comments of Jesus in Matthew 5:21-24 extend the Hebraic meaning to refer to something more than just literal blood shed:

"You have heard that it was said to those of old, 'You shall not murder; and whoever murders will be liable to judgment.' (22) But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says, 'You fool!' will be liable to the hell of fire. (23) So if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, (24) leave your gift there before the altar and go. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift. (Matthew 5:21-24 ESV)

Notice that Jesus shows that murder has spiritual nuances, and was designed to extend to the thoughts and feelings as well as the external act. Here, Jesus draws murder more close to home—our tongues and our spirits can murder people. As humans, we are not too quick, as Christians anyways, to grab a 357 Magnum and murder someone. However, we are quick to do so with our tongues, sometimes too quick. We have all been tempted to bruise or crush (root word meaning) someone spiritually that we did not like or has done us wrong. I wonder now, how many Christian murderers we have? I wonder how many have preaching licenses’? Better yet, how many occupy a church board position or a pew? One of the greatest human faux pas is that we expect mercy, recognition, blessing, and authority for ourselves, but at the same time we often refuse the same to others.

When Jesus spoke of the one in Matthew 5, who had something against his brother, He commanded that they put their gift of worship down and make it right with God, then worship. I wonder how the dereliction of that duty has caused so much confusion in churches and in public worship and song, because we are out of "spiritual alignment" with God.


[1] (Verse By Verse Commentary, Copyright © 1997-2002. The Enduring Word Commentary Series. By David Guzik
[2] Zodhiates, S. (2000, c1992, c1993). The complete word study dictionary : Old Testament (electronic ed.) (G5515). Chattanooga, TN: AMG Publishers.
[3]Whitaker, R., Brown, F., Driver, S. (. R., & Briggs, C. A. (. A. (1997, c1906). The Abridged Brown-Driver-Briggs Hebrew-English Lexicon of the Old Testament : From A Hebrew and English Lexicon of the Old Testament by Francis Brown, S.R. Driver and Charles Briggs, based on the lexicon of Wilhelm Gesenius. Edited by Richard Whitaker (Princeton Theological Seminary). Text provided by Princeton Theological Seminary. (954.1). Oak Harbor WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc.
[4]Feinberg, J. S., Feinberg, P. D., & Huxley, A. (1996, c1993). Ethics for a Brave new world. Wheaton, Ill.: Crossway Books.


Chris Pace said...

Brother Anderson,
I do agree with you to a point. I understand the distinction between do not kill, vs do not murder. My only question to your article is the application of this logic to "self defense". We are told to, turn the other cheek, pray for those that despitefully use you. I could go on, but I don't read of Christ telling us to defend ourselves. I have taken up this arguement with those that see no problem with carrying a gun for protection. I don't see a problem with carrying the gun, but at what point do you justify taking another person's life? Do you do it to save the 50 bucks in your wallet? I know the law has defined what is considered self defense, but I am curious about what the scriptures say. Any thoughts on the matter?

Brother Pace

James Anderson said...


Welcome. Thanks for the comments.

I agree with you in that Christ has not told us to defend ourselves, explicitly anyway. However, based upon this ommission I am not sure we should make a solid case against killing in this manner. Exodus 22:2-3, actually confirms the justification of a burglar who is killed by the homeowner and no guilt is to be ascribed to the homeowner who defended himself and home.

The question should really be is killing, not including murder, condemned in scripture? The answer is no. Deliberate taking of innocent life is however (Exodus 20:13; Matthew 5:21). The Biblcal principles are constant and clear–murder requires punishment.

Paul actually warned Christians that if evil is done the sword (a metaphor for the highest form of punishment--death penalty) would be exacted upon them. "...But if thou do that which is evil, be afraid; for he beareth not the sword in vain: for he is the minister of God, a revenger to execute wrath upon him that doeth evil." (Romans 13:4 KJV) Also, Paul earlier, in Acts 25 tells Caesar that if he is worthy of the death penalty then let it be done. Jesus also affirmed the death penalty in the garden after Peter had cut off the ear of the slave. Jesus told him that "all who take the sword will perish by the sword." (Matthew 26:52 NKJV) In other words, if you take lives you will have your life taken, i.e. death penalty.

TomR said...

Greetings, Brother Anderson,

Thanks for inviting me to your blog.

What scripture in support of capital punishment commands we N. T. saints explicitly in how we are to behave or react? For example, such as…

Matthew 5:43-48 “Love your enemies… bless them that curse you…” etc.

Luke 6:27-29 Love your enemies, do good to them… resist not evil...

Rom 12:19-21 …avenge not yourselves, but rather give place unto wrath: for it is written, Vengeance is mine; I will repay, saith the Lord.
20 Therefore if thine enemy hunger, feed him; if he thirst, give him drink: for in so doing thou shalt heap coals of fire on his head.
21 Be not overcome of evil, but overcome evil with good.

Now, on the other hand…

2 Thess 1:6 …it is a righteous thing with God to recompense tribulation to them that trouble you;

So then, when the scripture says something to the effect, as you quoted…

"...But if thou do that which is evil, be afraid; for he beareth not the sword in vain: for he is the minister of God, a revenger to execute wrath upon him that doeth evil." (Romans 13:4 KJV)

…this is talking, not to the Christian as to what he is commanded to do, but what evildoers can expect to have happen to them- “Christian” or not.

So then, if we imply that such verses give Christians authority to exact capital punishment, and thereby make explicit commands to the contrary of none effect, have we not simply interpreted via a non sequitur?


-Tom Raddatz

James Anderson said...


Welcome to the blog and thanks for your input. I value your comments.

I think the logic does follow, because I do not think the scriptures you provide are meant to disallow CP. I think they stress mercy as a vital part of the New Covenant. At the same time, however, we cannot find scriptures that disallow CP and that support Christians from abstaining from certain jobs that could include them in the process of exacting or deciding CP.

I do not think that the pacifist view is totally biblical, yet I do not see an overt tendency to resort to death as biblical either. My view is that the death penalty is neither mandated nor prohibited but is a permitted sanction so long as biblical conditions are met. The rationale for this is that while the Old Testament provides for the death penalty, the examples of murderers who were not executed (e.g., Moses and David) undermine the position that capital punishment is required. The death penalty is therefore permitted, but only when biblical principles concerning its application have been met. These include proportionality (Exodus 21:23-25); intent (Numbers 35:22-24); due process (Deuteronomy 17:8-9; Num 35); individual responsibility (Deuteronomy 24:16); fairness, regardless of the wealth or class of the accused (Numbers 35:29-31; Exodus 23:6-7); reluctance to execute (Ezekiel 33:11); and certainty of guilt (Deuteronomy 17:6; Num 35:30).

John said...

Brother J. N. Anderson,
First, where does one draw the line between "offer him the other [cheek]" and defending one's self. When the offense is against myself, I would tend to be more forgiving up to a point. When does God expect us to take not only defensive but offensive action once determined an assault is potentially deadly and can only be stopped with extreme force?

Second, as a husband and father, any assault (verbal or physical) to my wife or daughter would not be tolerated (no other cheek for the perpetrator). I would consider "an eye for an eye" if my family was victim of a crime. When the offense is against any loved one, I would tend to be less forgiving to the offender and take quick action. Am I irrational because of love to my family? Is this a double standard making me a hypocrite? What is your opinion of God's plan for defending others?

Last, when the Bible was written, criminals used brute muscle, knives, rocks, slings,and other primitive weapons against one foe at a time. You and those around you would have had more time to stop the assaults and avoid injuring many people. With current weaponry and explosives this is not possible. What if we shot first and asked questions later if we encountered a terrorist with sticks of dynamite strapped around them? Only a fool would not know their ultimate intent.


John E

Book Talk said...




See if these help. Thanks!

Adversus Trinitas

"...unless you believe that I am he you will die in your sins." (John 8:24 ESV)