Exodus 20:13, Thou Shalt Not Kill

Thou shalt not kill.

//This is one of the ten commandments. It’s recorded also in Deuteronomy 5:17, and repeated twice in the New Testament: once by Jesus (Matthew 5:21) and again by Paul (Romans 13:9). Always in the very same, clear language. Thou shalt not kill. Serious stuff.

So strong has this polemic grown that many Christians refuse to bear arms in battle; refuse to approve the death penalty; refuse to celebrate the death of Osama Bin Laden.

Now, I’m not arguing that war is good or that capital punishment is appropriate, nor can I think of anybody I’ve ever wanted killed. That’s hardly the Christian nature. But I do want to clarify what the Bible really says.

In each case, I’ve been quoting the King James Version. But the wording has been corrected in the New King James Version, and many other translations. A much more precise wording is Thou shalt not murder. It is hardly against the Law of God to justifiably kill another person; indeed, many of God’s laws require stoning the perpetrator to death. The Hebrew verb in this commandment is ratzach, which normally describes homicide. In particular, premeditated killing. In the few cases where it refers to accidental death, provision is recorded for a lesser sentence, making it clear that the Bible does not consider all forms or reasons for killing to be equally wrong.


  1. This has always been a curiosity to me. Before this command was issued, “Thou shall not murder,” did people think it was OK to commit premeditated killing?

    My guess is that the purpose of this commandment, like all the other laws and regulations given to Israel, was to institute a system of control over a group of ‘chosen’ people in order to eventually bring them towards a comprehension of grace and of other spiritual realities which ancient people had no ability to understand.

    If this is at all correct, I would also say that this process of increasing awareness continues today.

  2. Lee Harmon

    Agree on all points, Bob! A cynic, however, will point out that “thou shalt not murder” bears a qualifier: “thou shalt not murder anybody unless so directed by God.” Meaning, you can’t make up your own rules for when to kill, but must somehow justify it through divine command.

    ps: I suspect every state’s law code in the US also puts murder at the top, so I guess it doesn’t go without saying, lol.

    • I fully agree, and would go one step further and say it only applied to those in the Covenant Community. It was part of the “glue” which held the Community together. The Bible shows again and again, whether sanctioned by God or not, murder of those not in the Community was allowed, except in certain specified situations (resident aliens, etc.)

  3. Thou shall not kill / murder… applies to all living creatures. Unless God specifies that certain living being can be killed?

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