Kill or Murder?

Kill or Murder?


One verse that is commonly cited in support of Jesus’ pacifism is Matthew 5:21, which most English versions of the Bible render, “You shall not kill.” The Greek word translated “kill” in this passage is a form of the verb φονεύειν (phoneuein). This verb was always used in the Septuagint Greek translation of the Hebrew Scriptures as the equivalent of the Hebrew verb רָצַח (ratsakh). Ratsakh is the word used in the sixth commandment in both Exodus 20:13 and its parallel, Deuteronomy 5:17. It seems quite certain that in Matthew 5:21 Jesus was quoting the sixth commandment.

The words phoneuein; and ratsakh are both ambiguous and can mean either “kill” or “murder,” depending upon the context. However, God himself commanded capital punishment for such crimes as deliberate murder (Exod. 21:12-15), rape (Deut. 22:25-26), kidnapping (Exod. 21:16), adultery (Lev. 20:10; Deut. 22:22), sorcery (Exod. 22:18), and many other crimes. The sixth commandment, therefore, must be a prohibition against murder, not killing as such.

In spite of this, the King James Version of 1611, and the revisions of 1885 (Revised Version) and 1952 (Revised Standard Version), used “kill” rather than “murder” in translating Jesus’ quotation of this commandment.  Although most recent translations of the Bible have corrected this mistake,  the “kill” of the King James Version and its successors has strongly influenced many English-speaking Christians’ views of self-defense.

But another question to be asked is: is all killing to be avenged? The answer is that only killing that is not justifiable can be avenged. For instance killing in self defense is justifiable. Killing the enemy in war is justifiable. Killing a thief who comes into your house in the middle of the night is justifiable. Killing someone for angering you is not justifiable. Killing someone for stealing from you is not justifiable. Exodus 21 lays out some of the conditions for distinguishing justifiable versus unjustifiable killing and the different levels of unjustifiable killing (manslaughter versus premeditated homicide) that call for different penalties.

Murder is an intentional and highhanded sin. While we may have an ongoing debate in America about whether ANY killing of a human being is murder….you know, the death sentence for certain criminal acts, or even death resulting from military combat…. Biblical Law made it all pretty cut and dried for the Israelites: the killing of a human fell into two basic categories, justified or unjustified. Justified killing was not murder. Justified killing would be, for example, that you caught an UNARMED thief in your house AT NIGHT, had no way to make a quick judgment as to the level of danger this thief posed to you and your family, and so you killed him. In the Law of Torah, you were justified in killing because you were assumed to be protecting life…. yours, your guests, and your family’s. Killing that same UNARMED thief during daylight hours, however, when you reasonably could have discerned whether the thief was a known dangerous criminal and whether or not he was armed, is Unjustified. Taking his life, in this case, was only about protecting property, and God does not allow that trade-off……life for property. Any Hebrew would know this. Therefore, the unjustified killing was an intentional sin and NOT coverable by sacrificial atonement: but the justified killing was NOT intentional, and therefore WAS coverable by sacrificial atonement.

Exodus 21:12-19 CJB   12 “Whoever attacks a person and causes his death must be put to death.

13 If it was not premeditated but an act of God, then I will designate for you a place to which he can flee. 14 But if someone willfully kills another after deliberate planning, you are to take him even from my altar and put him to death. 15 “Whoever attacks his father or mother must be put to death.

16 “Whoever kidnaps someone must be put to death, regardless of whether he has already sold him or the person is found still in his possession. 17“Whoever curses his father or mother must be put to death. 18 “If two people fight, and one hits the other with a stone or with his fist, and the injured party doesn’t die but is confined to his bed; 19 then, if he recovers enough to be able to walk around outside, even if with a cane, the attacker will be free of liability, except to compensate him for his loss of time and take responsibility for his care until his recovery is complete.

So the modern thought among a large number of Christians that the death penalty for murder is barbaric and ended with Christ is simply false. God generally expects a life for a life….IF….the killing was not justifiable.

*info from and


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