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Article Info:
published: 10/8/13

You Shall Not Murder



The Sixth Commandment

You shall not murder is the sixth of the 10 Commandments that God gave the Israelites through Moses. Human life is so precious and sacred that no person should dare to take it away by violence. The Bible teaches that God is the author of life and that life begins and ends according to God's order. Some scholars make a distinction between "murder, which refers to improperly taking another person's life, and "killing," which refers to a justifiable reason to take the life of another person, even violently (e.g. like in war or as a consequence for breaking certain laws). This commandment continues to be observed in the Jewish religion.

What is the Scripture reference? Exodus 20:13, "Thou shalt not kill." (KJV); "You shall not murder." (ESV); "You shall not murder." (NASB); "You shall not murder." (NIV)

What is the relationship focus? People and people (commandments 5-10 emphasis people's relationship with other people as opposed to "people and God")

Is the commandment a prohibition? Yes (the commandment is saying what "must not be" done as opposed to what "must be" done)


Explanation

The Hebrew verb has a wider range of meanings, generally describing destructive activity, including meanings "to break, to dash to pieces" as well as "to slay, kill, murder". According to the Priestly Code of the Book of Numbers, killing anyone outside the context of war with a weapon, or in unarmed combat, is considered retzach, even if the killing is accidental. The Bible never uses the word retzach in conjunction with war.

The act of slaying itself, regardless of questions of bloodguilt, is expressed with the verb n-k-h "to strike, smite, hit, beat, slay, kill". This verb is used of both an Egyptian slaying an Israelite slave and of Moses slaying the Egyptian in retaliation in Exodus 2:11-12. The Covenant Code and Holiness Code both prescribe the death penalty for people that commit n-k-h.

Another verb meaning "to kill, slay, murder, destroy, ruin" is h-r-g, used of Cain slaying Abel in Genesis 4:8. When Cain is driven into exile, complaining that "every one that findeth me shall slay me" in Genesis 4:14, he uses the same verb. The commandment against murder can be viewed as a legal issue governing human relationships, noting that the first five commandments relate strongly to man's duty to God and that the latter five commandments describe duties toward humans. The commandment against murder can also be viewed as based in respect for God himself.

Since man is made in God's image, the shedding of innocent blood is viewed as a direct offense against the Creator. The voice of your brother's blood is crying to me from the ground. And now you are cursed from the ground, which has opened its mouth to receive your brother's blood from your hand.

— Genesis 4:10-11 (ESV)

The Genesis narrative also portrays the prohibition of shedding innocent blood as an important aspect of God's covenant with Noah.

Whoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed, for God made man in his own image.

— Genesis 9:6 (ESV)

The Torah portrays murder as a capital crime and describes a number of details in the moral understanding and legal implementation of consequences.

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