You shall not kill. (Exodus 20:13)
At first sight, this commandment seems to be both straightforward and self-evident but, with a little study, it reveals itself to be more complex and far-reaching than we might imagine.
One area of confusion arises from the fact that the KJV renders it as: Thou shalt not kill. However, the Hebrew word ‘ratzákh’ is more correctly translated as ‘murder’ and also covers death resulting from carelessness or negligence. So the sense of this commandment is: You shall not murder either by the commission of a murderous act or the intentional or negligent omission of appropriate action or care.
It’s interesting to note that in Matthew 19:18 the KJV correctly references this commandment: Thou shalt do no murder – as translated from the Greek word ‘phonenō’: to murder.
With this distinction – murder versus killing – it seems unlikely that most of us would ever be guilty of breaking the sixth commandment but it’s exactly this distinction that leaves us vulnerable to this particular sin. It all comes down to the definition of murder and the elements involved and also, more importantly, what Jesus had to say about it.
The dictionary defines murder as: the unlawful premeditated killing of one human being by another.
There are two key words to consider here:
Unlawful: This term implies that, while every act of murder involves killing, not every act of killing involves murder. There may be a number of lawful reasons for one person to kill another (for example, self-defense, acts of war etc).
Virtually all human cultures and societies, Christian or otherwise, prohibit murder. Indeed, in some countries, this prohibition is so marked that the crime of murder isn’t even required to be a part of statutory law. There are, of course, various other offences, such as manslaughter, unlawful killing and so on, but these crimes rarely invoke the full horror, disgust and punitive fury of society to the same degree as premeditated murder.
Premeditation: This term includes motive and implies malice, forethought, intent, planning and perhaps preparation (such as acquiring a weapon, setting a trap, laying in wait and suchlike). This notion of premeditation is very important because no sin, including murder, begins with the act itself but rather it’s the inevitable result of that which is already in our hearts and minds.
‘But each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire. Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin, when it is fully grown, brings forth death.’ (James 1:14-15 ESV)
The Bible tells us, ‘The heart is deceitful above all things, and it is [exceedingly perverse and corrupt and] severely, mortally sick!’ (Jeremiah 17:9 Amplified Version)
Jesus, Himself, further elaborates on this topic when He says, ‘For from within, out of the heart of man, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, coveting, wickedness, deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride, foolishness. All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person.’ (Mark 7:21-23 ESV)
What a thoroughly scathing observation. I have an overwhelming urge to rate these sins in some way; surely pride and foolishness aren’t as bad as murder and wickedness. Are coveting and envy really on a par with sexual immorality and deceit? The inevitable conclusion is that there’s no Biblical concept that defines sin on a sliding scale. All sin, without exception, breaches God’s law and is an abomination to Him. This is particularly significant, in the context of this study, when we consider how Jesus interpreted the sixth commandment.
Rather than abolishing the law, Jesus taught its spiritual intent and application and, by doing so, He revealed the spirit of the law to be significantly more demanding than the letter of the law. With respect to the sixth commandment, He warns us of the consequences of becoming angry with another person without cause and allowing that anger to fester and escalate to verbal abuse. (Physical abuse is, of course, an offence in its own right.)
Jesus said, ‘You have heard that it was said to the men of old, ‘You shall not murder,’ and ‘Whoever murders shall be guilty before the court.’ But I say to you that everyone who continues to be angry with his brother [without cause] or harbours malice against him shall be guilty before the court; and whoever speaks [contemptuously and insultingly] to his brother, saying ‘Raca!’ shall be guilty before the supreme court; and whoever says, ‘You fool!’ shall be in danger of the fiery hell.’ (Matthew 5:21–22 Amplified Version)
(‘Raca’ – vain, empty, worthless. This was a particularly offensive Aramaic insult that was used to express total contempt. It derives from a root meaning ‘to spit’)
Unjustified anger = murder
So it’s clear then that unjustified anger is, in Scriptural terms, the same as murder. Anger, in itself, isn’t sin but unjustified anger definitely is. There may sometimes be a case for righteous anger but, even so, it must be tempered with patience and mercy just as God does with His righteous anger towards us. What better example can we follow than that of God Himself.
‘Rend your hearts and not your garments. Return to the Lord your God, for He is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love; and He relents over disaster.’ (Joel 2:13 ESV)
The New Testament also includes instructions and exhortations for us to manage and control our anger. ‘Be angry and do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger and give no opportunity to the devil.’ (Ephesians 4:26 ESV)
‘Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger; for the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God.’ (James 1:19-20 ESV)
Hate = murder
We read in John’s first letter, ‘Whoever hates his brother is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life abiding in him.’ (1 John 3:15 ESV)
‘If anyone says, I love God, and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen. And this commandment we have from Him: whoever loves God must also love his brother.’ (1 John 4:20-21 ESV)
The word used for ‘hate’ in verse 20 is very strong. It derives from the Greek combining form ‘mīseîn’ – to hate and it means ‘to habitually despise’, ‘to detest’. It doesn’t refer to a transient emotion but rather it implies a deep-rooted and persistent antipathy.
So unjustified anger and persistent hate – perhaps allowing a grudge to fester or dreaming about and possibly even planning revenge – is, in fact, murder in the heart. It may be that we can conceal this sin from those around us but there’s no hiding it from God. ‘And no creature is hidden from His sight, but all are naked and exposed to the eyes of Him to whom we must give account.’ (Hebrews 4:13 ESV)
What can we do to avoid or remedy this sin? Well, we already know that Jesus summed up the entire law with these words, ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘You shall love your neighbour as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.’ Keep your heart with all vigilance, for from it flow the springs of life. (Proverbs 4:23 ESV)
And the Apostle Paul instructs us, ‘Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamour and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. Be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.’ (Ephesians 4:31–32 ESV)
In his letter to the believers in Philippi, Paul tells us where to focus our thoughts, ‘Whatever is true, whatever is honourable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.’ (Philippians 4:8 ESV) I can’t help feeling that if we filled our hearts and minds with these things, there would be no room for anger and hate.
The sixth commandment : You shall not murder
If we perform an unlawful act or exhibit carelessness or neglect that results in someone’s death, it’s clear that we breach the sixth commandment. We should also be keenly aware that any time we indulge in unjustified anger or persistent hate, we are in breach of this commandment.
Guilty as charged.