“You shall not murder” (Exodus 20:13; Deuteronomy 5:17).
Murder is a horrible thing. Yet it has been a terribly common occurrence in earth’s history. The world has suffered an ongoing nightmare of murder ever since Cain, the firstborn of Adam and Eve, murdered his brother Abel (Genesis 4:1-8). Even the Son of God was murdered. Murder even has special macabre names to differentiate between victims. Homicide, genocide, suicide or aborticide (usually referred to as abortion) are examples. You can search for the numerous articles and messages on these topics on www.ucg.org.
What About Capital Punishment?
Some confusion has resulted from the translation in the old King James Version (KJV) of the Bible, published in 1611, which says, “Thou shalt not kill.” The Hebrew word, ratsach, used here and only a few times in the Old Testament, definitely means “murder,” and almost all modern versions translate it as such. The Hebrew word for “kill,” qatal, occurs hundreds of times.
Based on the translation in the KJV, many have assumed that every type of killing of a human being is forbidden. But one of the first commandments that God revealed to Noah after the Flood was the institution of capital punishment. Genesis 9:6 says, “Whoever sheds man’s blood, by man his blood shall be shed; for in the image of God He made man.” This disproves the view that any execution must be by God because it says “by man his blood shall be shed” (emphasis added throughout).
The Contemporary English Version (CEV) combines verses 5 and 6 and makes the meaning clear: “I created humans to be like me, and I will punish any animal or person that takes a human life. If an animal kills someone, that animal must die. And if a person takes the life of another, that person must be put to death.”
Contrary to the thinking of many people, God’s law for ancient Israel requiring the execution of murderers emphasizes how highly God regards human life. All of the first five books of the Bible state that murderers should be executed. In Israel, under the Old Covenant, other crimes such as kidnapping and rape were to be punished with the same penalty. When people see honest, fair and swift justice being administered, they “hear and fear”—they are motivated to be law-abiding!
Romans 13:1-10 shows that civil governments are authorized by God to administer justice and maintain peace. In the New International Version (NIV), verse 5 says: “For the one in authority is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for rulers do not bear the sword for no reason. They are God’s servants, agents of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer (Romans 13:5).
Many Spiritual Problems Lead to Murder
One sin leads to another, as described in Romans 1:20-32. Many sins can culminate in murder. Lack of emotional control of tempers, resentment and anger. Hatred. Jealousy. Revenge. Greed. Lust. Pride, including a desire to be “famous.” Self-pity. Mental illness, including damage from being abused or abandoned. Intoxication. Chronic viewing of violent entertainment. Zeal for a perverted cause. Lack of conscience based on right values. Ignorance of the sanctity of life and purpose of life.
There are many emotions and reactions that are all called “anger.” But not all anger is sinful. Jesus Christ certainly got angry but never sinned. Some emotions that we call being “angry” or “mad” are not hateful and sinful. There is such a thing as righteous indignation. The Good News Bible translates Ephesians 4:26 as: “If you become angry, do not let your anger lead you into sin, and do not stay angry all day.”
God created us with the whole range of emotions, but they must be controlled and pointed in the right directions. Hate is a good example. We must hate sin but love the sinners. “You who love the LORD, hate evil!” (Psalm 97:10).
It’s shocking and sad that many people place no value on their own lives, such as suicide bombers and other terrorists. And we frequently hear of mass shootings where the shooter knows he will be killed or captured! These people have a pessimistic, hopeless, cynical and nihilistic view of life. Suicide is a form of murder, self-murder.
The prevalence of suicides is utterly heartbreaking. In 2017 in the United States, there were 19,510 reported homicides but 47,173 suicides! One of the Great Commandments is to “love your neighbor as yourself.” There is a desperate need for people to learn their God-given purpose in life and how God wants everyone to provide tender loving care for his God-given body and mind (see 1 Corinthians 6:19-20). We highly recommend our inspiring booklet, Why Were You Born?
Euthanasia is another form of suicide and murder. However, this should not be confused with a patient voluntarily deciding to let nature takes its course and terminating certain life-sustaining medical treatments, which is legal, moral and reasonable.
The world is sliding into another spiritual dark age. The apostle Paul wrote about the character of many people in “the last days” in 2 Timothy 3:1-7. Of course, the greatest evil influence is from Satan, the “ruler of this world” (John 12:31; 14:30; 16:11). “The devil . . . was a murderer from the beginning” (John 8:44).
The Opposite of Murder: Love All of God’s Children
When Jesus Christ came to earth, he came “to magnify his law and make it glorious” (Isaiah 42:21, English Standard Version). By deepening, expanding and elevating the Ten Commandments, He revealed the spirit of the law, showing that obedience is a matter of the mind and heart as well as one’s actions. He made clear that the Sixth Commandment includes the commands to “love your neighbor” and live by the Golden Rule (Matthew 22:39; 7:12).
Love and good relationships greatly depend on forgiveness. God expects us to be forgiving. God clearly loves us because He is always ready to forgive when He sees godly sorrow, true repentance and the person’s readiness to forgive those who hurt them (see Matthew 6:12, 14-15). And we must make it as easy as possible for others to forgive us by having the humility to admit our faults, ask for forgiveness and seek reconciliation (see Matthew 5:23-26).
In Matthew 5:21-22, Jesus revealed that hatred, bitter anger and ridiculing attacks are the spirit of murder. When someone callously damages and scars a person’s heart, mind, reputation, self-respect, and/or aspirations by abuse of any kind, a vulnerable and precious part of that person can die. Whether the abuse is by commission or omission, that is the spirit of murder. Young children especially are often scarred to some degree, although God can give us the strength and hope to heal.
In Matthew 5:38-48, Jesus revealed that we must love everyone, not just those who love us back but even our enemies! See Leviticus 19:9-18, 32-37 for some specifics about how to love people in various situations.
Please understand that when Jesus said to “turn the other cheek” (Matthew 5:39), He didn’t mean that one should allow himself to be abused or that one should never defend himself against injury. One lesson is that God’s people should not retaliate, seek revenge or be spiteful and vindictive. Many scriptures tell us that vengeance is God’s responsibility as only He can execute perfect justice. Romans 12:19 tells us, “Beloved, do not avenge yourselves, but rather give place to wrath; for it is written, ‘Vengeance is Mine, I will repay,’ says the Lord.”
The context of Matthew 5:39 is about love, so another lesson relates to the fact that loving someone makes oneself more vulnerable to getting hurt. People often “bite the hand that feeds them.” Jesus is saying that we should persevere in loving people in spite of knowing that we will sometimes get hurt. We should never react to hurt by thinking, “Well, I’ll never try to help him again!”
One of the best indicators of a person’s spiritual conversion is that “we love the brethren” (1 John 3:14) with the same kind of love that Jesus Christ has for us (John 13:34-35). John further stated: “Whoever hates his brother is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life abiding in him. By this we know love, because He laid down His life for us. And we also ought to lay down our lives for the brethren” (1 John 3:15-16).
The Bible also addresses what can be called “negligent homicide.” God warns us that if we are responsible for allowing a dangerous physical condition or situation to exist that causes a person’s injury or death, we can be held accountable for that injury or death. For example, we should not leave something in a walkway that could cause someone to trip. If you have a below-ground pool, it is wise to keep some kind of fence around it to prevent a person from falling into it. Indeed, we are to be our “brother’s keeper.” See Exodus 21:28-29 and Deuteronomy 22:8 for examples.
You shall not murder, either in the letter of the law or the spirit of the law. Instead, “love one another!” (John 13:34; John 15:12, John 15:17, Romans 13:8; 1 Thessalonians 4:9; 1 Peter 1:22; 1 John 3:11, 1 John 3:23; 1 John 4:7, 1 John 4:11-12; 2 John 1:5).