Jesus is here quoting from commandment number 6 of the 10 commandments in the Old Testament. These are in two places; Exodus 20:13 and Deuteronomy 5:17
On the surface this may seem like a pretty obvious statement but there are underlying questions such as; is the taking of human life always wrong? What about capital punishment? What about God commanding people to be killed? What about God killing people Himself, is He being hypocritical?
Firstly we need to establish the exact interpretation of murder and what it means in this context. The confusion has largely stemmed from some versions of the bible which interpret the commandment as ‘do not kill’ which could be interpreted as any sort of killing, including animals. If it meant literally not to kill anything this would have major repercussions, even for Jesus who killed fish to give His disciples breakfast (see John 21). We know that Jesus never sinned, so obviously it was ok to kill fish, so at least we have established that this verse doesn’t mean not to kill anything. The difference between killing and murder is subtle but very important. Basically, murder could be defined as “The unlawful killing of one human being by another”. You could insert the word ‘premeditated’ after unlawful, because some killing is accidental and there were many regulations in the Old Testament about what could happen if somebody accidentally killed someone, such as the provision of cities of refuge (Numbers 35:6).
One factor that must be considered is the authority that God has given to governing authorities;
Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God (Romans 13:1).
This could cover issues such as capital punishment or fighting in a war. These can be ‘grey areas’ which Christians have long debated over. More black and white for a Christian is the issue of Euthanasia and Abortion, which even when allowed by an authority, we would still consider as wrong. There are some issues, where the conscience is concerned, where we may need to disobey the authority structure we are under. God’s law always takes precedence over human authority and where that authority clearly contradicts God’s word we must make a stand.
The last issue I want to tackle today is where people point the finger at God and call Him a hypocrite for going against His own rules by killing people. This shows a gross misunderstanding about the nature of God. Let me set one thing straight, God is not morally answerable to any person. The bible states this in Isaiah 45:9
Does the clay say to him who forms it, ‘What are you making?’
The power of life and death is in God’s hands and He does what is right and what He pleases. The fact is that He doesn’t owe us anything except destruction. It is only through His amazing grace and mercy that He keeps us alive, because we are all rebellious and deserving of death, every last one of us. When you think about it, every single person who has ever died has died through God’s hands;
See now that I, even I, am he, and there is no god beside me; I kill and I make alive; I wound and I heal; and there is none that can deliver out of my hand. (Deuteronomy 32:39)
As I said earlier, this can seem like the most straightforward command but in reality it can be quite problematic, but I hope that I have made it a bit clearer. Next week we are going to look at Jesus’ radical definition of the 6th commandment where He classifies it even further.