The Sixth Commandment
"Thou shalt not kill"
Does this command forbid all killing?
This commandment has been greatly misunderstood, and the resultant misunderstanding has led to several serious errors. Does this commandment forbid all killing of any kind? Is the taking of another human life always sinful and wrong in God's sight? Is all killing forbidden by this command? Consider the following questions:
1) Is it wrong for governmental authorities to execute a murderer (Genesis 9:6; Romans 13:1-5)?
2) Was it wrong for the Israelites to kill and utterly destroy the inhabitants of the promised land (Deut. 7:1-2)?
3) Was it wrong for Saul and his army to kill and utterly destroy the Amalekites, including every man, woman, infant and suckling (1 Samuel 15)? Was Saul punished for his disobedience to God in not killing them all?
4) Was it wrong for God to kill and destroy every person on the face of the earth, with the exception of eight people (Genesis chapters 6-8)? Did God break the sixth commandment?
5) Was it wrong for David to kill Goliath, a man who defied the God of Israel (1 Samuel 17)?
6) Was it wrong for Phinehas to take a javelin and thrust it through an Israelite man and his heathen lover, killing both of them with one piercing blow (Numbers 25:7-8)? Was God angered or pleased by this killing (Numbers 25:10-13)? Were other lives saved because of this killing (Numbers 25:8-9)?
7) Was it wrong for Elijah to kill hundreds of the prophets of the false god BAAL (1 Kings 18)?
8) Was it wrong for the congregation of Israel to kill a man who gathered sticks on the Sabbath day (Numbers 15:32-36)?
9) Is it wrong for a policeman to use his gun and perhaps even kill someone in order to protect the innocent and enforce the law?
10) Is it wrong for a soldier to kill someone on the battlefield?
Failure to understand the true intent of the Sixth Commandment has led to several serious errors, including the following: 1) Opposition to the Death Penalty, often led by members of the clergy. See Capital Punishment; 2) Pacifism, refusing to go to war because God says, "Thou shalt not kill."
A Translation Problem
The word "kill" in Exodus 20:13 and Deuteronomy 5:17 means "murder." The proper translation is THOU SHALT NOT MURDER. It is interesting that in Matthew 19:18 the KJV correctly translates the Sixth Commandment: "Thou shalt do no murder." The Hebrew word (ratsach) and the Greek Word (phonenō) which are used in the Sixth Commandment both clearly mean "murder." The Hebrew language has a general word for killing (the verb muwth, meaning "to cause to die") and the Greek language has a general word for killing (the verb apokteinō), but these general terms for killing are not used in the Sixth Commandment. Instead very specific words are used which forbid MURDER.
All murder is killing but not all killing is murder.
Murder involves killing unlawfully with premeditated malice. It involves a deliberate, planned, pre-mediated attack against a fellow human being for the purpose of taking his life for reasons that are purely sinful. Examples of killing that do not fall into the category of murder are found at the beginning of this paper (see the ten examples given above).
There is also the kind of killing that is unintentional, such as when a person causes the death of a person by accident. God made full provision for this kind of killing by setting up cities of refuge in the land of Israel (see Numbers 35:1-34 and Deuteronomy 19:1-10). Accidental killing is rightly classified as killing but it is not murder. The Bible makes a clear distinction between someone who kills a person accidentally without ever having hated the person (Deut. 19:4), and someone who murders a person by lying in wait for him (Deut. 19:11). The latter is an example of a carefully planned and premeditated murder motivated by hatred.
Human life is precious and to be highly valued, for man is made in the image of God (Gen. 9:6). We live in a society which gives little respect to human life, as demonstrated by rampant abortion rate and the frightful and widespread allowance of euthanasia, etc. While the taking of a human life is never to be taken lightly, nevertheless the consistent teaching of the Scripture is that there are times when the taking of human life is justified. Woe to that society that fails to punish evildoers with a punishment that fits the crime (Romans 13:1-5). Woe to that nation that fails to defend itself and its borders against terrorist groups and tyrannical nations who are bent upon destroying the very fabric of our society. When the Japanese invaded Pearl Harbor the great majority of Americans recognized that a war response was needed, necessary, just and right.
Warfare, as terrible as it it, is sometimes necessary in this sinful world, and the reader should be reminded that the greatest battlefield slaughter of all time will take place in the future at Christ's second coming. This great and final battle will be led by the King of Kings and Lord of Lords Himself (see Revelation 19:11-19).
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