No, God Did Not Break the Sixth Commandment
Back in the 1970s, as a kid in Sunday school at our family’s church in Warrenton, Virginia, I learned the Ten Commandments. When we came to the Sixth Commandment…
Thou shalt not kill
…I had a question.
If it’s wrong to kill, why did God…well…kill?
Apparently, many adults today still wonder this. In fact, it’s something that’s often thrown out by skeptics or critics of the Bible.
Indeed, right here on Medium, an anti-Christian writer (there are several) has repeatedly tossed out this objection. Here’s a quote from one of her latest articles: “One of the Ten Commandments is ‘Thou shalt not kill,’ yet there are many times God killed people in the Bible — both innocent and guilty people.”
Let’s set aside, for now, the allegation that God killed “innocent” people. If we’re going to use the Bible to judge the Bible, then we should be fair about that. And the Bible makes clear that no one is really “innocent.” But let’s set all that aside for now.
You may not agree with the God of the Bible. But to accuse Him of violating the Sixth Commandment displays an ignorance of the Commandment itself.
The classic King James Version indeed translates Exodus 20:13 as “Thou shalt not kill,” but God didn’t speak in English in ancient times. And Moses didn’t write in English. “Thou shalt not kill” is a medieval English translation from an ancient Hebrew text.
When we look at the Hebrew, we see the word for “kill” in Exodus 20:13 (the Sixth Commandment) is “רָצַח” (ratsach) and it means “to murder, slay, or kill with premeditation.”
Daniel Sperber is a contemporary Jewish scholar, professor, and author. He has written extensively on Jewish law, customs, and traditions, and he explains this better than I can:
“The Hebrew word לא תרצח (lo tirtzach) in the Sixth Commandment means ‘you shall not murder’ and not the more general ‘you shall not kill’ (which in Hebrew would be לא תהרוג lo taharog). The latter implies that killing is always prohibited, whereas the former implies that there are circumstances, such as in a just…