One of the most common questions that someone serious about the Bible will ask has to do with one of the Ten Commandments; namely the sixth commandment that seem to prohibit the act of “killing”. Putting aside for a moment the question about taking the life of an animal, the case of homicide (taking the life of a human) seems to be closed. Upon further examination of the underlying Hebrew original, however, a different, more nuanced picture emerges. Please, allow me to explain.

Most English Bibles, especially the monumental KJV version, inaccurately (or rather not accurately enough) translate the sixth commandment simply as “Do Not Kill” (Exo. 20:13). But the Hebrew under the English translation justifies a much better alternative: “Do Not Murder”. To put this intense ethical matter into simple terms, every murder is killing, but not every killing is murder. (Murder is killing without a just cause.)

The Hebrew verb להרוג (to kill) can include unjustified homicide, but the Hebrew verb לרצח (to murder) is never used to describe a justified killing, such as killing in self-defense or court-ordered capital punishment. (This “justified killing” can also be translated by a different Hebrew verb להמית that is best translated as “to put to death”).

Keeping these insights in mind, the question then becomes simple. Which Hebrew verb is used in the Decalogue? The answer is לרצח – the verb that must be more accurately translated not with the broad meaning–“to kill”, but with a more particular definition–“to murder”.

So, does God forbid homicide? The answer is yes, but he does allow it under some exceptional conditions.

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84 COMMENTS

  1. I am puzzled why i read Jews, The chosen people of GOD do not believe in The Resurrected Christ. Can you enlighten me. Thanks. Praise GOD.

    • That is Correct. That is why the Tribulation is mainly for the Jews, they will then have seen that Jesus does exist and they will have the chance to be saved if they accepts Jesus as their savior. The Church (Christians) are the ones who will be raptured already.

      • If you read the entire chapters, rather than a few select verses, you will find that the scripture does not state anything about a rapture. This concept was made up in the late 1800’s by a woman who had a dream about it.

        • Actually, there are many words that the bible does not mention, as in the word ‘rapture’. However, there are references of words: one being rapture; an other one being suicide, mutilation, masturbation and so on. Get it?

          • Re Get it? NO as there is NO get to it. Christ is to return Here to rule. Only Jesus went to heaven. There is no near miss. The dead and alive that are Christ’s change meet Jesus in the air/clouds and come with him Rapture is 1800’s invention

        • Actually, the concept of the rapture was endorsed by the early Church fathers. It has continued on down through the centuries and was NOT introduced by the young woman.

          • That’s right Sheryl, the Church fathers endorsed the rapture, but with the meaning of “meeting Christ in the air” at His second coming. But Angiie and Darci appear to be talking about the popular idea of a pre-tribulation, secret rapture which will happen 3.5 or 7 years before Messiah’s second coming. If you can find where the church fathers support the idea of a secret rapture, please be sure to include a citation.

        • Darci if you take 1corinthians 15: and 1thessalonians 4 with other scripture and rightly divide the word of truth you’ll see that the rapture does occur prior to the tribulation

      • Angiie the Bible tells us all eyes will see Christ returning in the clouds {The first Heaven} No Secret Returning of Christ! If it was the Bible would NOT have said those who or alive with God’s Seal at Christ Returning would be changed in the twinkling of a eye

      • There are two tribulations and believe me that the first one is of Satan coming in as Jesus and will receive most Christians

    • But dig a little deeper. Is capital punishment acceptable, or self defense? Is accidental manslaughter punishable by death? There is a difference between these and premeditated murder fueled by hate and malice.

      • The Bible speaks on the book of Numbers about cities of refuge for those who accidentally or in self defense kill another person. The Bible speak about respecting the laws set up to live in “order “, and speaks about forgiveness when you’re truly repent from your heart!!

        • That is right, Mary. The Torah was/is really a legal code for a society/community to keep righteous order.

    • From my early childhood, I was taught that the sixth commandment was referring to the blatant killing of another human.

    • I understand that killing is murder when there is malice or hatred in the heart. So for examples: If a civil authority, a combat soldier, or a game hunter kills wantonly or maliciously murder should resonate in the conscience.

  2. The end results of mental anguish on the part of the one taking a life is still a reality. If it was justified or accidental.

  3. Until I studied the Bible using the New American Standard Bible, I saw the difference between general killing and murder. It has to be so, considering the fact that the Bible is replete with the wars of Israel in the Bible especially in the TANAKH ( The Old Testament ). It would make God look like a hypocrite if he commanded, “You shall not kill” and yet ordered Israel to kill in times of war. There are fundamentalist churches that prohibit their members from bearing arms in the military, adhering to the literal reading of the King James Version.

  4. Giving numbers to God’s commandments looks for me as not the best idea. Is it fifth or sixth commandment could be discussed long time.
    But the main question of that lesson is to know that God not forbid us killing, what peple relaying on national translations of the Hebrew original usually not know. It is a greate job to explain and recollect it.
    But the greate question is to know in theory and in our life when killing is not murder. Where is the border?

  5. Excellent definition Dr. Eli Lizorkin-Eyzenberg, among the Hebrew verbs: להרוג (to kill) the verb לרצח (to murder), and the verb להמית , to end answering with לרצח.

    I do not know Hebrew, but I like to read this definitions from the experts.

    Thank you and may God bless.

    Rev. Alfonso M Suárez.
    Frankfort, Indiana. USA

  6. Some groups(Amish, Mennonites, etc, and others throughout history)take “Thou shall not kill” in the absolute sense, no killing, no involvement in war, no capital punishment, no lethal self-defense, no to being a law enforcement officer.
    I have to say I question their scriptural understanding and theology as to what the early church and Jewish people would have believed about killing.

    • So either killing in battle is not murder, or else we would have to conclude that God is a hypocrite. Clearly, slaying in battle is not murder, it is national protection.

      • Or following God’s will to put to death those condemned by God because they worshiped other gods such as when Isreal attacked Jericho. They saved Rahab and her family for her belief in God, but killed the rest of Jericho.

        • That’s right Lee. Think about it, Deu.18:9-13 gives a few examples of how evil those nations were, and God used Israel to bring judgment on them. But He also promised that other nations would bring judgment on Israel if they acted in the same way.

  7. Well I have never ever considered that sixth commandment as anything other than murder even if it’s says kill. So no I don’t think the kjv has it wrong . What I think is you need to be lead by Gods Holy Spirit when you read the Bible.

  8. I have an Amplified Bible which I’ve used to study, (hopefully, better translation of Hebrew) for over 30 years. Is this a reliable translation of verses from Hebrew?
    Thank you for your help. Loretta

    • Barry, the issue of just war is a much more complex one that we can possibly explore here, but in theory yes. If Hitler’s ilk is attacking your motherland you are duty bound to defend your country, your city and your family.

  9. Thank you for pointing out that there two verbs for killing. One means “to murder” , and the other
    refers legal execution of murderers.

  10. In as much as there is a difference between killing and murder, there seems to be a problem if we are to reconcile your explanations with Jesus teaching. From your explanation one can kill in self defence but Jesus says turn the right cheek if you are slapped on the left cheek. He went on to say that you should not be afraid of those that can kill the body. He said prayitno for those that pesecute you

    • Jesus’ comments about turning a chick must be understood in the context in which he taught. You are assuming that you understand the meaning perfectly 🙂 and this can not be the case since all of us are far removed from such context by geography, time and history.

      • I doubt if I assume I understand the definition perfectly. That is why I ask how do we reconcile your explanation with the teaching of Jesus. That is suppose to open up more dimensions on the discussion of the subject matter.

        • There is a deeper meaning to the teaching that you cited. It is closely related to the other teachings alongside of it: walking two miles and giving two garments.

          • Jesus didn’t say anything about turning the other cheek if your parents or children were under threat. The way I read this passage is that we should give a person a second chance, He never says anywhere that we should allow anybody to beat us to death.

          • Absolutely Jenny. Turning the other cheek is not going against self defense and self preservation. It is protesting oppression by highlighting it with a counter-intuitive reaction, just like the other examples in the same passage.

      • Is it true that Jesus’s comment to turn the other cheek had to do with open handed slaps vs back handed slaps and was open defiance and insult to the slapper by the slapped?

        • Walter Wink wrote this in “Engaging the Powers”. Jewish law (from the Mishna) did place a double fine on someone who slapped another backhandedly over open-handedly (m.Bava Kamma 8:6), thus it does stand to reason that a backhanded slap was regarded as more insulting, thus requesting an open-handed slap would be a request to raise your perceived status.

  11. I understand the difference between “to kill” and to “murder” but was there not also a time limit between an incident and an action by an individual discerning that which would be considered justice (justifiable homicide) and revenge (murder)?

  12. Shalom. Thank you. This is very much the way I always understood that commandment because the Isralites were often at war and that ment killing the enemy. There is a difference in premeditated murder and killing in self defense or to defend ones loved ones.

  13. Our friend, Esme, has written on 7 Feb interesting suggestion that to kill a human is a problem, but that move me to the statement that God’s commandment “not murder” is about everything, also about animals and trees. Everything containing a “nefesh haya” (living soul) has a God’s life; life given by God, our Father.
    We need a good reason to kill any animal, otherwise we are murders. Therefore be good for your dogs, cats, horses and feed birds during frosty winter. God bless you… as He has blessed also animals.

  14. IMO: The Israelites. led by Yahweh, defending themselves against enemies, is not the same as more recent Western civilization’s wars led by corporate profits.

  15. Again, you keep citing the King James Version. The ESV, which is a more accurate word for word translation, says the same thing that you do. In fact, a footnote adds, “Exodus 20:13 The Hebrew word also covers causing human death through carelessness or negligence.”

  16. God issued the death penalty in Gen. 9:6. This is called justifiable homicide. The commandment of Thou shalt not kill, represents unjustified homicide. One is needful or can be enforced by the action of the other. Romans 13 gives the government the option of a death penalty if desired.

  17. Hi Dr Lizorkin-Eyzenberg
    I have read the instruction of Yahweh of certain transgressors were ‘to be put to death’, not just for killing or murder, in the Torah, I am also aware there was in ancient times a desert kingdom of Put, and I wondered if in keeping with…

  18. …the commandments, transgressors were to be cast out of the camp into the desert (Put) until death (to death), averse to the case of a leper who regarded as unclean was to be put out of the camp until clean.

    • The people of Put were the Phoenecians (or else people from Ancient Libya). Those who Biblically were to remain “outside of the camp” were not driven to the Land of Put. There were designated areas outside of the Israelite camp, town or city for them (until they were clean to return again). Those who were to be condemned to death for a particular transgression were killed; not simply banished.

  19. Early on in my faith, we’ve been told that 6th Commandment should be ‘You shall not murder’. Now in this topic, it is clearly explained why – because of the Hebrew word used.

    Thanks for this explanation.

    • To Inthavong.
      So stop imagining. Read Malachi those thrown into the lake of fire that are human burn up to become ashes under our feet. AS a loving Father and Brother would not do that as He still loves them Even thought they won’t repent. That’s real mercy

  20. I got an exposition on Daniel’s seventy weeks in year 2003: 49 weeks were to pass from the time instruction is given to Nehemiah to the messiah being revealed (455BC to 28AD). This corresponds to the 1517AD (Martin Luther: the reformation) to 2000AD. Do we have one week left?

  21. How do we square self defense killing with Christ’s command to love our enemies, Paul’s description of his beatings and statement that Christian’s were being killed all the day long? In 1957 Steve Saint was killed rather than using his rifle. One man who killed him is now a pastor.

    • Isn’t it possible to show love to enemies while still upholding personal self defense? Or are all enemies murderers? And yes, Paul and many believers were slain or nearly slain. Does that mean none of them tried to defend themselves? Let’s face it; against a mob, who can successfully defend himself? The odds were not in their favor. But I hope that every murderer would repent and submit to the Creator of us all.

  22. There are many accounts of ISIS leaders and hardened rebel commandos that have turned to Christ. Defending ourselves increases hatred and the feeling of justification of those persecuting. It never results in spreading the gospel or bringing salvation. This is complex: e.g. defense of others??, Judicial executions??, Where’s the line?

    • Exceptions do not define general principles. I’m glad that vile people became believers, but the blunt assertion that self defense increases hatred or never results in spreading the gospel is hardly provable. Though admittedly, voluntarily suffering for the benefit of others is still a hallmark teaching of our Messiah. It is what He did and it is the highest form of showing love. But it doesn’t mean self-defense (or defense of others) is intrinsically bad.

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