You Shall Not Murder

The Ten Commandments:

  1. You shall have no other gods before me
  2. You shall not make for yourself an idol
  3. Do not take the name of the Lord in vain
  4. Remember the Sabbath and keep it holy
  5. Honor your father and mother
  6. You shall not kill/murder
  7. You shall not commit adultery
  8. You shall not steal
  9. You shall not bear false witness
  10. You shall not covet

The Sixth Commandment simply says: “You shall not murder” (Exodus 20:13 NKJV).

What does “murder” mean?


According to Brown-Driver-Briggs, the Hebrew word רָצַח (ratsach) means “murder, slay.”

Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance defines it as:

Put to death, kill, manslayer, murderer

A primitive root; properly, to dash in pieces, i.e. Kill (a human being), especially to murder — put to death, kill, (man-)slay(-er), murder(-er).

The word רָצַח (ratsach) in Exodus 20:13 has been translated into English as “murder” (NIV, NLT, ESV, NKJV, HCSB, ISV, YLT) or “kill” (KJV, ASV). The implication is that רָצַח (ratsach) involves the deliberate taking of a human life.

Does the Sixth Commandment forbid capital punishment?

On the surface, it might appear that the Sixth Commandment forbids all forms of intentional killing, including capital punishment. However, as with any passage in the Bible, Exodus 20:13 must be understood in light of other Bible passages on the same subject. In the Old Testament, the death penalty was stipulated many offenses, including murder (Genesis 9:5,6; Numbers 35:16-21,30-33; Deuteronomy 17:6), blasphemy (Leviticus 24:11-14,16,23), homosexual acts (Leviticus 18:22;20:13), adultery (Leviticus 20:10; Deuteronomy 22:24), witchcraft (Exodus 22:18), and many other sins. Clearly, in light of these passages – and many others – Exodus 20:13 does not forbid capital punishment. Although many will debate whether capital punishment should continue to be practiced today, using Exodus 20:13 as a proof text against the practice is bad theology.

What about other killing of humans?

There are also other situation where Exodus 20:13 does not apply. The law distinguishes between premeditated murder and manslaughter (Numbers 35:22-25). The verb רָצַח (ratsach) is never applied to Israel at war. Killing in self-defense is permitted (Exodus 22:2, Nehemiah 4:17-18). The Sixth Commandment is limited to the deliberate murder of an innocent victim. To generalize the verb רָצַח (ratsach) to mean any form of killing is to take the Sixth Commandment out of context and to apply it in a manner that the text simply doesn’t support.

What about killing animals?

Thou-Shalt-Not-KillSome animal rights activists attempt to use this verse as an argument against killing animals. Human life is sacred because man bears God’s image (Genesis 1:27). Murder is wrong because Man was created in God’s image (Genesis 9:6). Again, while this verse might appear on the surface to support the idea that the Bible teaches animals should not be killed, there is a multitude of other passages throughout the Bible that contradict this notion. First, there are extensive passages that describe the Jewish animal sacrificial system, in great detail. Although these practices are no longer observed or necessary, they clearly contradict the belief that the Bible forbids the killing of animals. Second, beginning in Genesis 9:3, people were given permission to eat meat. Again, there are extensive sections of the Old Testament that describe in great detail exactly what animals the Jewish people were permitted to eat, and which were forbidden. In the New Testament, Christians were permitted to eat even these forbidden animals (Acts 10:9-15) as well as animals that had been sacrificed to idols (1 Corinthians 10:25 and following). Again, using Exodus 20:13 as a proof text against the practice of killing animals is bad theology. The law only applies to people.

What did Jesus say about the Sixth Commandment?

In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus said:

“You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder, and whoever murders will be in danger of the judgment.’  But I say to you that whoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment. And whoever says to his brother, ‘Raca!’ shall be in danger of the council. But whoever says, ‘You fool!’ shall be in danger of hell fire” (Matthew 5:21-22 NKJV).

First, Jesus confirms Exodus 20:13. He does not say that it no longer applies, but rather affirms its continued relevance. Second, Jesus expands it by equating unjustified anger with murder. If a person is so angry with another person that they wish they were dead, they have broken the Sixth Commandment in their heart. Everyone has gotten angry without just cause. Although few of us have actually taken another person’s life, we have almost all been so angry that we wished someone were dead.

In Jesus’ view, everyone is guilty of murder, at least in their hearts and minds. We have all violated the heart of the matter – we have all hated. The bad news is, we are all subject to judgment by God for our hatred, the same as if we had murdered someone. The good news is, God extends forgiveness to all who believe in Jesus, to all who repent of sin and receive Jesus as Savior. In the Bible, the word repent means “to change one’s mind.” When one repents, it means they change their mind concerning Jesus Christ. It means they change their minds about their own goodness and about their own righteousness before Holy God, and trust Jesus for the forgiveness of sin. All of us have sinned, and all of us fall short of God’s perfect standard – Himself. We all deserve death and eternal damnation for our rebellion against God. God has demonstrated His love for us by sending His Son, Jesus, to die in our place. “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life” (John 3:16).