Does the Bible say thou shalt not kill or thou shalt not murder?

Here is an article on it by a prominent Jewish professor of religious studies at the University of Calgary.

His qualifications are here. He is an expert in Hebrew language.


Those of us who are familiar with the original Hebrew text of the Bible find frequent occasion to whine about inaccuracies and misleading expressions in the translations that are in use among non-Jews. Many of these discrepancies arose out of patently theological motives, as Christian interpreters rewrote passages in the “Old Testament” so as to turn them into predictions or prefigurations of the life of Jesus. Some of the mistranslations, though, are harder to account for.

For me, one of the most irksome cases has always been the rendering of the sixth commandment as “Thou shalt not kill.” In this form, the quote has been conscripted into the service of diverse causes, including those of pacifism, animal rights, the opposition to capital punishment, and the anti-abortion movement.

Indeed, “kill” in English is an all-encompassing verb that covers the taking of life in all forms and for all classes of victims. That kind of generalization is expressed in Hebrew through the verb “harag.” However, the verb that appears in the Torah’s prohibition is a completely different one, ” ratsah” which, it would seem, should be rendered “murder.” This root refers only to criminal acts of killing.

It is, of course, not just a question of etymology. Those ideologies that adduce the commandment in support of their gentle-hearted causes are compelled to feign ignorance of all those other places in the Bible that condone or command warfare, the slaughter of sacrificial animals, and an assortment of methods for inflicting capital punishment.

Not that I don’t agree with this guy about his comments on abortion. I think abortion IS murder, and that Jews always considered it murder. Consider this post at Reason to Stand.


“The law enjoins us to bring up all our offspring, and forbids women to cause abortion of what is begotten, or to destroy it afterward; and if any woman appears to have so done, she will be a murderer of her child, by destroying a living creature, and diminishing humankind.” -Josephus, 1st century Jewish historian

Regarding the KJV and its translation of the text as “Thou shalt not kill”. The KJV is a poor translation of the Bible. If you know the history of Erasmus and the Textus Receptus, you’ll know it was a rush job done in 1611, and that newer and more manuscripts have emerged since 1611.

Get an NASB. That’s the most literal translation available, except for the original Koine Greek itself. Here’s the relevant verse from Exodus 20 in the NASB. If you want something readable, go for an NIV or and ESV. But to make your case, use an NASB.

5 thoughts on “Does the Bible say thou shalt not kill or thou shalt not murder?”

  1. As a point of correction, Erasmus collated copies of the Greek New Testament and published a Greek manuscript that went through five or six editions. The first edition was a rush job, but the others were not. He was actually aware of a number of texts that are used in the Critical Text, but he rejected them as corrupt. Erasmus’ work was very important in the spread of Christianity. If I may quote from my own blog (as awkward as that sounds):

    “From this printing of the Greek text, many translations arose. Luther’s German, Tyndale’s English, Lefevre’s French, Biestkens’ Dutch, Laurentius’ Swedish, de Reyna’s Spanish, as well as the Danish, Czech, Italian, and Welsh translations all came from Erasmus’ printing of the Traditional text. In fact, almost all translations came from this text until the nineteenth century! Other printings of Greek manuscripts, such as those done by Stephanus, Beza, and the Elzevir brothers were simply reprintings of Erasmus’ Traditional text. It was at the time of the Elzevir brothers that the Traditional text in printed form came to be called the Textus Receptus because of an advertisement regarding their printing.”

    I almost never agree with what you write, Wintery, but I have to say that I disagree on this issue. The KJV was carefully translated by a number of men. While I do not believe it is the only accurate copy of Scripture in English, it was certainly not a rush job either.

    Leland Ryken’s book “The Word of God in English” is an excellent source of information on translation, though I disagree with him on the text issue as well. He speaks highly of the KJV even though he was on the translation of the ESV.


  2. I’d have to say that McSpinster’s argument has been completely demolished on this issue.



  3. It turns out that both “murder” and “kill” are wrong.

    “Kill” is certainly too broad, because the original Hebrew did not include all killing.

    But “murder” is too narrow, because the original Hebrew included all kinds of illegal killing, including what we would now call “manslaughter,” etc.



  4. God made accidental killing excusable in the Old Testament by making Cities of Refuge available. In the New Testament Jesus said, Even if you have anger in your heart toward someone, you have killed them. There seems to be a clear distinction between intentional killing and other types of killing.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s