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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61 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.

  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.

    • That is surely true. But the mental anguish is one important part of it, the other is moral clarify and guilt.

  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?

    • Torah itself differentiates between murder and accidental manslaughter / capital punishment / self-defense.

  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

    • Hebrew helps a lot. Even knowing Hebrew is no guarantee from going a stray, BUT it raises up the changes of being right about original meaning significantly higher.

  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.

  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

    • If you study using an English translation, use several of them side-by-side. Whenever they differ, you can know something is interesting in the Hebrew.

  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

  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.

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