Thursday, May 30, 2013

The Sixth Commandment: Thou Shalt Not Murder

Earlier this week, I happened to notice something about the phrasing of the sixth commandment. I thought it might make an interesting discussion, and it's pertinent to how authors design characters and readers sympathize with them.

What I noticed:

Per the NKJV, the sixth commandment is "You shall not murder" (Ex. 20:13, Lev. 5:17). Not kill, which is in KJV, ASV, and some other translations.

If you've ever thought about how war or capital punishment relates to that commandment, you might notice that the word used very much changes how the commandment applies. A fair number of words have changed meanings through the centuries, so I got to wondering…

How much of the varying modern interpretations are our own biases foisting themselves on the commandment? I've heard folks use the command argue that even capital punishment is wrong—though it's commanded in Scripture. I've also heard the command defined in such a way that the speaker then could justify the American Revolution starting over taxes, while vilifying the French Revolution, which was also kinda over taxes

Different words about killing have different connotations in different languages, functioning differently depending on the cultural beliefs about death. (It's worth noting that in Spanish, death is a temporary state of being, according to the verbiage used to refer to it.) What was that commandment's original meaning?

And has the word kill always meant what it does today? Per the Online Etymology Dictionary, kinda, though quell hasn't.

Let's go back to Jesus's words about the commandment.

21 Ye have heard that it was said of them of old time, Thou shalt not kill; and whosoever shall kill shall be in danger of the judgment: 22 But I say unto you, That whosoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment: and whosoever shall say to his brother, Raca, shall be in danger of the council: but whosoever shall say, Thou fool, shall be in danger of hell fire. Matt. 5:21–22, KJV

Usually, that's read comparing "kill" to "anger", in the sense of the passage about adultery in later the chapter (Matt. 5:27–28).

However, it occurs to me that the common factor if Matt. 5:21–22 is the matter of judgment. It's like a parent saying, "If you break the neighbor's window, you know you'll be in trouble. But if you drink my coffee without asking, you'll also be in trouble." Maybe there's a connection between the window and the coffee, but maybe not.

I also notice the "without a cause". Anger with cause is therefore fine.

So now, wishing I'd bothered to take Hebrew this past year, I go digging into Strong's Concordance with Hebrew and Greek Lexicon, because what word is used in the Ten Commandments, murder or kill? Per Strong's, the word in that context is ratsach.

The majority of the old definitions of kill/ratsach look to be in line with murder—and the Lord actually does command some folks' deaths in Scripture, so that in itself can't be against the commandments—so I'm inclined to think that translation more likely. (That means self-defense would therefore be permissible, though the turning the other cheek of Matt. 5:39 might be preferable.)

However, I can't say that those who define the Sixth Commandment as "Thou shalt not kill anyone, ever, no matter what" are necessarily wrong. The verse can be read that way. So it looks to me like a conscience issue, comparable to the meat sacrificed to idols.

Which gives me inspiration for some interesting conversations I could have between characters who learn they aren't as similar in belief as they necessarily thought… ^_^

What are your thoughts on the Sixth Commandment? Do you think me entirely off-base, or do you think my view reasonable?


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