This continues a series on the Ten Commandments. In the last post we discussed 7th commandment. With object of demonstrating that we base our laws upon the Bible, in this post we will discuss the relationship between the 6th commandment and government.
What is the 6th commandment?
Exodus 20.13 The New Revised Standard Version
You shall not murder.
Note that for reasons we discussed in PART 2 of this series Catholics consider the prohibition against murder the 5th commandment.
The Appropriate Term
In some translations of the Bible, the word “murder” is replaced with the word “kill”. However, “murder” is the more correct translation.
Exodus 20:13 murder. The law distinguishes between manslaughter and premeditated murder. The verb here is never applied to Israel at war, and capital punishment was already authorized (Gen. 9:6; cf. Lev. 24:17; Num. 35:30–34). Human life is sacred because man bears God’s image (Gen. 9:5, 6 and notes). (from The Reformation Study Bible; click on “Show Resource and then Ex 20:13)
Jesus Described The Moral Sin
Within “The Parable of the Wedding Feast” (Matthew 22:1-14), Jesus illustrated murder and its appropriate punishment. That occurred when some the invited guests rudely rejected the King’s invitation.
Matthew 22:5-7 Good News Translation (GNT)
5 But the invited guests paid no attention and went about their business: one went to his farm, another to his store,6 while others grabbed the servants, beat them, and killed them.7 The king was very angry; so he sent his soldiers, who killed those murderers and burned down their city.
In the Sermon On The Mount, Jesus equated murder with hatred of one’s brother.
Matthew 5:21-22 Amplified Bible (AMP)
21You have heard that it was said to the men of old, You shall not kill, and whoever kills shall be liable to and unable to escape the punishment imposed by the court.
22But I say to you that everyone who continues to be angry with his brother or harbors malice (enmity of heart) against him shall be liable to and unable to escape the punishment imposed by the court; and whoever speaks contemptuously and insultingly to his brother shall be liable to and unable to escape the punishment imposed by the Sanhedrin, and whoever says, You cursed fool! [You empty-headed idiot!] shall be liable to and unable to escape the hell (Gehenna) of fire.
The Old Testament Prohibited Murder
In Numbers 35, the Bible clearly distinguishes between an intentional and an unintentional killing. This chapter even provided for cities of refuge so anyone who killed any person unintentionally and unawares could flee to one of them. What this chapter describes as murder is a killing done treacherously or in enmity. Numbers 35 also proscribes an appropriate method of conviction and punishment.
Numbers 35:30-33 Amplified Bible (AMP)
30Whoever kills any person [intentionally], the murderer shall be put to death on the testimony of witnesses; but no one shall be put to death on the testimony of one witness.
31Moreover, you shall take no ransom for the life of a murderer guilty of death; but he shall surely be put to death.
32And you shall accept no ransom for him who has fled to his city of refuge, so that he may return to dwell in the land before the death of the high priest.
33So you shall not pollute the land in which you live; for blood pollutes the land, and no atonement can be made for the land for the blood shed in it, but by the blood of him who shed it.
God Personally Condemns And Punishes Murder
Sometimes the Israelites could not make their judicial procedures work. Thus, when he committed a murder, the prophet Nathan confronted King David. Because he was the king, the Nathan explained how the Lord God would punish David.
2 Samuel 12:7-12 Amplified Bible (AMP)
7Then Nathan said to David, You are the man! Thus says the Lord, the God of Israel: I anointed you king of Israel, and I delivered you out of the hand of Saul.
8And I gave you your master’s house, and your master’s wives into your bosom, and gave you the house of Israel and of Judah; and if that had been too little, I would have added that much again.
9Why have you despised the commandment of the Lord, doing evil in His sight? You have slain Uriah the Hittite with the sword and have taken his wife to be your wife. You have murdered him with the sword of the Ammonites.
10Now, therefore, the sword shall never depart from your house, because [you have not only despised My command, but] you have despised Me and have taken the wife of Uriah the Hittite to be your wife.
11Thus says the Lord, Behold, I will raise up evil against you out of your own house; and I will take your wives before your eyes and give them to your neighbor, and he shall lie with your wives in the sight of this sun.
12For you did it secretly, but I will do this thing before all Israel and before the sun. [Fulfilled in II Sam. 16:21, 22.]
Because David spent most of his adult life soldiering for Israel, he killed other men in combat, but God did not define that as murder. What brought God’s wrath on David was a treacherous act. David had betrayed a man who respected and trusted him.
What Does The Law Say?
Findlaw.com provides a legal definition of Murder.
[partly from Old English morthor; partly from Old French murdre, of Germanic origin]
: the crime of unlawfully and unjustifiably killing another under circumstances defined by statute (as with premeditation)
: such a crime committed purposely, knowingly, and recklessly with extreme indifference to human life or during the course of a serious felony (as robbery or rape) compare cold blood, cooling time, homicide, manslaughter
Findlaw.com also provides this note.
NOTE: Self-defense, necessity, and lack of capacity for criminal responsibility (as because of insanity) are defenses to a charge of murder. Most state statutes and the U.S. Code divide murder into two degrees. Florida, Minnesota, and Pennsylvania currently have three degrees of murder. Some states do not assign degrees of murder.
What are these degrees of murder? It is worth visiting Findlaw.com to view the definitions, but the degrees include: depraved-heart murder, felony murder, first-degree murder, second-degree murder and third-degree murder.
Our laws originated in England. In Homicide, the Catholic Encyclopedia explores the subject of murder, citing English legal history. Here is an excerpt from the section on civil jurisprudence.
Homicide free from legal guilt was by the English law defined as either justifiable or excusable. Of justifiable homicide an instance is afforded by such “unavoidable necessity” as the execution of a criminal “pursuant to the death warrant and in strict conformity to the law” (Wharton, op. cit., 9). Instances of excusable homicide would be killing in self-defence or an accidental killing by a person doing a lawful act without any intention to hurt (Idem, op. cit.). But contrary to the legal doctrine which Sir William Blackstone (Commentaries on the Laws of England, IV, 186) derives from Lord Bacon, modern English law does not seem to admit necessity of self-preservation as excuse for killing “an innocent and unoffending neighbour” (Queen vs. Dudley and Stephens, English Law Reports, 14 Queen’s Bench Division, 286). Homicide under circumstances rendering the act neither justifiable nor excusable is a crime of the class denominated felonies (Bishop, “New Comment. on Crim. Law”, Chicago, 1892, II, sec. 744). Felonious homicide, when imputed by law to the infirmity of humannature and deemed without malice, is termed manslaughter, being either a voluntary killing “in a sudden heat of passion”, or an involuntary killing “in the commission of an unlawful act” (Wharton, op. cit., 6). Felonious homicide when accompanied by malice constitutes murder, a crime committed “where a person of sound memory and discretion unlawfully kills any reasonable creature in being in the peace of the commonwealth or sovereign with malice prepense or aforethought, either express or implied” (Wharton, op. cit., 2).
American and English attitudes and laws compare remarkably well with what we find in the Bible. Because the Bible condemns it, our laws condemn malicious killing. We do not condemn either killing in self-defense or an unintentional killing.