Category: (06) “You shall not murder”


After Noah, his family, and the animals exited the ark, God gave a new command: put to death anyone who murders another person. Genesis 9:6 says, “Whoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed, for God made man in his own image.” The severest of penalties is to follow murder, and God Himself gives the reason for it.

God specified that murder was to be punished by death because of the nature of man. Man is created in God’s own image (Genesis 1:27). As murder destroys an image-bearer, it is a direct affront to God Himself. Humans are unique among God’s creations—none of the animals are created in God’s likeness—and murder is a unique crime.

Another, secondary reason for the mandate is quite practical. The immediate context includes another command given to Noah and his three sons: “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth” (Genesis 9:1). Murder, of course, would work against humanity’s being fruitful and multiplying. The death penalty for murder thus served as a deterrent to anyone who sought to thwart God’s plan to replenish the earth. This was especially important when Noah’s family first departed from the ark, at which point only eight people were alive.

Before the Flood, Cain had murdered Abel, and, although Cain was judged by God, he was not put to death (Genesis 4). Lamech, a descendant of Cain, also murdered someone (Genesis 4:23-24). By the time of God’s judgment in Genesis 6, it appears that crime was rampant, including the crime of murder. After the Flood, a new standard was raised as part of the recreated earth: God would no longer tolerate murder. Later, murder was condemned in the Ten Commandments (Exodus 20). The punishment for premeditated murder was death (Numbers 35:30-34).

In the New Testament, Jesus provided a wider application of the Old Testament command against murder. He taught, “You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder; and whoever murders will be liable to judgment.’ But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says, ‘You fool!’ will be liable to the hell of fire” (Matthew 5:21-22). Murder is wrong, and the attitude behind the action is just as wrong. God sees the heart and its intentions (1 Samuel 16:7).

Murder is consistently listed as a sin throughout the New Testament (e.g., Revelation 22:15). Man still bears the image of God, and God’s view of murder has remained the same.

Simply stated, the sixth of the Ten Commandments forbids the unjustified taking  of a human life. However, the commandment itself has a couple of interesting  elements that bear mentioning. First and foremost, different Bible translations  give the appearance of different meanings, and there is potential for  misunderstanding the actual meaning of the verse. Second, man was never created  for the act of murdering another, and there needs to be an explanation for such  a violent and final act towards another human being. Third, because of the  translational challenge, we need to understand the difference between “murder”  and “killing.” And last but not least, how does God view murder? To God, murder  is not just physical in nature but also the condition of one’s heart towards  another.

There are two different Hebrew words (ratsakh, mut) and  two Greek words (phoneuo, apokteino) for “murder” and “killing.” One  means “to put to death,” and the other means “to murder.” The latter one is the  one prohibited by the Ten Commandments, not the former. In fact, ratsakh has a broader definition than the English word “murder.” Ratsakh also  covers deaths due to carelessness or neglect but is never used when describing  killing during wartime. That is why most modern translations render the sixth  commandment “You shall not murder” rather than “You shall not kill.” However, a  very large issue can arise depending on which translation one studies. The  ever-popular King James Version renders the verse as “Thou shalt not kill,”  therefore opening the door to misinterpreting the verse altogether. If the  intended meaning of “Thou shalt not kill” was just that—no killing—it would  render all of the God-endorsed bloodletting done by the nation of Israel a  violation of God’s own commandment (Deuteronomy 20). But God does not break His  own commandments, so, clearly, the verse does not call for a complete moratorium  on the taking of another human life.

Why does man murder? We know that  we were created in God’s image (Genesis  1:27) and we were made to live in harmony with God and with our fellow man.  This harmony became impossible once sin entered into the picture (Genesis 3).  With sin came the propensity for acting violently against one another. Anger,  jealousy, pride and hatred can fuel man’s evil bent towards life-ending  aggression. The first recorded act of murder was when Cain killed his brother  Abel (Genesis  4:8). From that moment on, taking the life of another has been commonplace  and, in some circles of society, acceptable. However, to God every life is  important, and since God knew that man was sinful and evil and had become  “lawless,” He enacted guidelines that would seek to modify man’s behavior (1 John 3:4).

So, is  there a difference between murder and killing? First, it is important to note  that not all killing is wrong. For instance, the apostle Paul talks about the  right of the state to take the lives of evildoers (Romans  13:1-7). This relates to what is commonly referred to as capital punishment.  Most countries have consequences for murder. In some cases this requires the  life of the perpetrator and a suitable means of putting one to death is chosen  and administered (Matthew  5:21; Exodus  21:14). Another instance of acceptable “killing” is that which is done  during times of war and at the command of superiors. There were quite a few  instances in Scripture where God endorsed and allowed the taking of other lives  (1 Samuel 11; Judges 6–7). And finally, although far from acceptable,  manslaughter is yet another form of killing someone. This unintentional act  apparently happened so often in biblical times that cities of refuge were  designated for the manslayer to seek refuge in (Exodus  21:13; Joshua 20). Again, it was never God’s intent to have to use such a  drastic measure as taking one’s life to rectify a situation. So, God does make  exceptions for the taking of another’s life as long as it lines up with His  will. However, premeditated murder of an individual is never God’s will.

What is murder in God’s eyes? From the human perspective, murder is the  physical act of taking another’s life. However, we also must consider that God  defines murder as any thought or feeling of deep-seated hatred or malice  against another person. In other words, it is more than just a physical act  that constitutes murder to God, who tells us that “everyone who hates his  brother is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life abiding in  him” (1 John 3:15  ESV). When we harbor hatred in our hearts for another, we have committed the  sin of murder in God’s eyes. The disdain towards another person never has to be  demonstrated outwardly because God looks upon the heart for the truth (1 Samuel 16:7; Matthew 15:19). As  Christians and as human beings, we know that unjustified killing is wrong. God’s  Word is very clear on this point: “You shall not murder.” And what God says we  must obey, or we face the consequences on judgment day.