What is Murder?
Dr. Joe Temple


Will you open your Bibles, please, to the book of Exodus, chapter 20, where we are considering together the Ten Commandments.

Shall we bow our heads together now for a word of prayer:

Our Father, we are grateful that we have this opportunity of looking into the Word of God once again. We pray that Thou wilt open Thy Word to us, giving us understanding of this particular portion, and we do pray that as we understand it, our Father, we will be able to implement it into our lives. For we pray in Jesus' name and for His sake. Amen.


We have noticed in this chapter a list of what we commonly refer to as the Ten Commandments. In this series of studies we have talked about the side issues related to the Ten Commandments–the reason they were given, how binding they are on us, etc. We are now examining each one of the Commandments individually, and finding out exactly what they do say. One of the problems related to the Ten Commandments is a misunderstanding of what they actually say. If we do not know what they actually say, then we cannot understand how binding they are on us.

Such is the case particularly in relation to the Commandment at which we are going to look now. Brief though it is, there is much misunderstanding about it. Movements have been based on a misunderstanding of this particular Commandment; ideas in relation to it that have been dangerous have been advanced. I think that those of us who are interested in being enlightened in relation to the Word of God need to know where we stand, lest we get involved in these various movements and in various issues that could lead us astray. I am talking about the Sixth Commandment, quoted in verse 13:

Exodus 20

13Thou shalt not kill.

That is a simple little Commandment, but we need to know exactly what it says. Does it actually say, “Thou shalt not kill?” If it does, then capital punishment is wrong, war is wrong; and kind of taking of life would be ruled out by this Comandment. If such is the case, we find ourselves in a dilemma from which it will be difficult to extricated ourselves. So I think it would be wise for us to know exactly what this Commandment says.

Thou Shalt Do No Murder

The first think I would suggest to you about it is what is suggested in some of the revisions of the Old Testament, in which this verse reads: “Thou shalt do no murder.” That is the real meaning of this Commandment, “Thou shalt not kill”: “Thou shalt do no murder.”

In the Old Testament there are two Hebrew words for “kill” or “murder.” One of them is a general word related to the taking of life, regardless of the reason. The other is a word that is, or should be, translated “murder,” related to a deliberate, intentful purpose in the taking of life.

Turn with me to the book of Deuteronomy, chapter 13, and notice an illustration of what we are talking about. In Exodus 20 the word that is translated “kill” is the Hebrew word raw-tsakh , which should be translated “murder”; so, in verse 13 what we are reading is, “Thous shalt do no murder.” In Deuteronomy, chapter 13 we have another word which , if we do not understand its rightful meaning, becomes contradictory:

Deuteronomy 13

6If thy brother, the son of thy mother, or thy son, or thy daughter, or the wife of thy bosom, or thy friend, which is as thine own soul, entice thee secretly, saying, Let us go and serve other gods, which thou hast not known, thou, nor thy fathers;
7Namely, of the gods of the people which are round about you, nigh unto thee, or far off from thee, from the one end of the earth even unto the other end of the earth;
8Thou shalt not consent unto him, nor hearken unto him; neither shall thine eye pity him, neither shalt thou spare, neither shalt thou conceal him:

notice verse 9 particularly:

Capital Punishment Demanded

You understand the basic thought behind this paragraph. The worship of God, the true God, was so important that God said any effort on the part of anybody to dissuade someone from that worship would be worthy of death.

We are interested primarily in verse 9, where we have the definite statement, “Thou shalt surely kill him.” Are you thinking with me? Exodus 20, verse 13, says, “Thou shalt not kill.” Deuteronomy 13, verse 9, says, “Thou shalt surely kill.” Sounds like a contradiction, doesn't it? But it isn't, if you will keep in mind what I suggested to you at the very beginning of our discussion; the Hebrew word in Exodus 20 refers to murder, and this Hebrew word in Deuteronomy 13 refers to what we might call today “capital punishment,” or the taking of life by permitted authority.

If you will turn with me to the book of Numbers, chapter 35, you will notice an illustration of the use of these two different words in making a distinction between murder and taking of life. If we do not make this distinction, we are going to be confused in relation to what the Bible teaches. Notice the paragraph which begins with verse 9:

Numbers 35

9And the LORD spake unto Moses, saying,
10Speak unto the children of Israel, and say unto them, When ye be come over Jordan into the land of Canaan;
11Then ye shall appoint you cities to be cities of refuge for you; that the slayer may flee thither, which killeth any person at unawares.
12And they shall be unto you cities for refuge from the avenger; that the manslayer die not, until he stand before the congregation in judgment.
13And of these cities which ye shall give six cities shall ye have for refuge.
14Ye shall give three cities on this side Jordan, and three cities shall ye give in the land of Canaan, which shall be cities of refuge.
15These six cities shall be a refuge, both for the children of Israel, and for the stranger, and for the sojourner among them: that every one that killeth any person unawares may flee thither.
16And if he smite him with an instrument of iron, so that he die, he is a murderer: the murderer shall surely be put to death.

Defining Manslayer and Murderer

Let's pause for a moment and notice the distinction which the Holy Spirit is making here. In verse 11 we are told that Moses was to provide a city of refuge for the manslayer–the man who killed without intention, the man who killed unaware. However, in verse 16, if a man should smite another man with an instrument of iron, with deliberate intent and purpose, so that he died, he was a murderer, and he should surely be put to death.

Numbers 35

17And if he smite him with throwing a stone, wherewith he may die, and he die, he is a murderer: the murderer shall surely be put to death.
18Or if he smite him with an hand weapon of wood, wherewith he may die, and he die, he is a murderer: the murderer shall surely be put to death.
19The revenger of blood himself shall slay the murderer: when he meeteth him, he shall slay him.
20But if he thrust him of hatred, or hurl at him by laying of wait, that he die;
21Or in enmity smite him with his hand, that he die: he that smote him shall surely be put to death; for he is a murderer: the revenger of blood shall slay the murderer, when he meeteth him.
22But if he thrust him suddenly without enmity, or have cast upon him any thing without laying of wait,
23Or with any stone, wherewith a man may die, seeing him not, and cast it upon him, that he die, and was not his enemy, neither sought his harm:
24Then the congregation shall judge between the slayer and the revenger of blood according to these judgments:
25And the congregation shall deliver the slayer out of the hand of the revenger of blood, and the congregation shall restore him to the city of his refuge, whither he was fled: and he shall abide in it unto the death of the high priest, which was anointed with the holy oil.
26But if the slayer shall at any time come without the border of the city of his refuge, whither he was fled;
27And the revenger of blood find him without the borders of the city of his refuge, and the revenger of blood kill the slayer; he shall not be guilty of blood:
28Because he should have remained in the city of his refuge until the death of the high priest: but after the death of the high priest the slayer shall return into the land of his possession.
29So these things shall be for a statute of judgment unto you throughout your generations in all your dwellings.

Now notice:

We will stop our reading right there, emphasizing to you that in this 35th chapter of the book of Numbers there is illustrated the difference between an individual who murders with deliberate intent and an individual who kills otherwise–in this particular instance, accidentally. So, when we read in Exodus 20:13, “Thou shalt not kill,” we are not ruling out all taking of life. It is important for us to remember that. Exodus 20:13 says, “Thou shalt do no murder.”

If we accept this translation of Exodus 20:13, we will not fall into the error of ruling out capital punishment. You probably have noticed in your papers and on your radios in the last few years a real emphasis on the abolishing of capital punishment. Many reasons are given, one of them being this Commandment. “Why, even the Bible says, 'Thou shalt not kill.' We have no right to take the life of a man who kills another man,” say the proponents of this error.

Capital Punishment - Instituted By God

I want to digress long enough, if it is a digression, to suggest to you that I am amazed at how many Bible teachers, very sound in other respects, are falling into this error, and are backing the movements for abolishing capital punishment. If someone were to say to you, “How can capital punishment be right, in view of the Sixth Commandment?”, you would want to turn with him to chapter 9 of the book of Genesis, and you would want to notice when and how God established the practice of capital punishment, for how long He intended it to continue, and why it is not a contradiction of the Commandment that thou shalt do no murder. Notice in verse 5 of this chapter:

Genesis 9

5And surely your blood of your lives will I require; at the hand of every beast will I require it, and at the hand of man; at the hand of every man's brother will I require the life of man.

Let's stop a moment and realize what we are reading. After the Flood, God began to deal with man in a new Dispensation, in a new manner. There was a new order of things. One of the things that occurred after the Flood was that there was a definite enmity between beasts and men, so that the blood of man was required at the hand of beasts. Also, there was definite enmity between man and man, and at the hand of man, man's blood was often required. But even though those were the conditions that existed, God said in verse 6:

Genesis 9

6Whoso sheddeth man's blood, by man shall his blood be shed: for in the image of God made he man.

When God made that statement, He established capital punishment. He said, “When man sheds a man's blood, then officially by man must his blood be shed.” If you are wondering whether this was a suggestion that endured merely during the days of Noah, remember a thing that has already been pointed out to you. This is a covenant which God made not only with Noah but with Noah's seed after him. Glance at verse 9:

Genesis 9

9And I, behold, I establish my covenant with you, and with your seed after you;
10And with every living creature that is with you,….

Then notice verse 12:

For one generation after another, this covenant is binding.

God Gives Powers to Governments

Now will you turn with me, please, to the book of Romans, chapter 13, and notice a statement that we are prone to forget in relation to the government of our land and the authority that is vested in it by the permission of God. You will find a number of people saying, “If the government orders you to kill somebody by war or by capital punishment, you must not do it, because you would be violating the Sixth Commandment.” Romans 13 is a reminder that duties never conflict:

Romans 13

1Let every soul be subject unto the higher powers. For there is no power but of God: the powers that be are ordained of God.

Will you stop and let that sink in? You may not think it is true, but it is true. The powers that be may not think it is so, but it is so. There is no power but of God; the powers that be are ordained of God.

Or, a better word is “condemnation.” Let that sink in. Sometimes we treat very lightly resistance against the laws of the land. God said, we are resisting the ordinances of God when we resist civil law. Notice verse 4:

Romans 13

4For he is the minister of God to thee for good. But if thou do that which is evil, be afraid; for he beareth not the sword in vain: for he is the minister of God, a revenger to execute wrath upon him that doeth evil.
5Wherefore ye must needs be subject, not only for wrath, but also for conscience sake.

The powers that be are ordained of God, and they bear not the sword in vain, according to verse 4; they bear the sword, which is the symbol of mortal combat, as the minister of God. The government is a revenger to execute wrath upon them that do evil. So we must not use the Sixth Commandment out of place, and say that it forbids such a thing as capital punishment. God said in Genesis 9 that He was establishing capital punishment; He said it should endure for perpetual generations; and He said that those in authority are ordained by Him, and carry the sword as the executors of wrath against those who do evil. By no stretching of the Scripture is capital punishment ruled out by the Sixth Commandment.

War Not Forbidden

There is another error in relation to the Sixth Comandment, and it is that it rules out war. Some individuals, many of them sincere, refuse to bear arms at the behest of their country because they say God gave a commandment, “Thou shalt not kill.” Keep in mind that God gave the comandment, “Thou shalt do no murder.” There is a vast difference between murdering and being instruments in the hands of God for the execution of His authority.

Someone comes along and says that the Lord Jesus Christ threw a new light upon the Ten Commandments; that when the Lord Jesus Christ interpreted the Ten Commandments, He forbade anybody's going to war, and Himself refused the defenses of material arms in His own behalf. To verify what they say, they quote you a passage of Scripture found in the Gospel of John, at which I would like for us to look now, and to see what this passage actually says.

Will you turn, please, to the Gospel of John, chapter 18. In the betrayal in the Garden of Gethsemane, when they came to take the Lord Jesus Christ, He revealed Himself to them (in verse 6) and they fell to the ground at the exercise of His divine authority. He did that to prove to them that He was the Son of God; then He withdrew His divine power and authority. In verse 7, humanly, He said:

John 18

7…….. Whom seek ye? And they said, Jesus of Nazareth.
8Jesus answered, I have told you that I am he: if therefore ye seek me, let these go their way:
9That the saying might be fulfilled, which he spake, Of them which thou gavest me have I lost none.
10Then Simon Peter having a sword drew it, and smote the high priest's servant, and cut off his right ear. The servant's name was Malchus.
11Then said Jesus unto Peter, Put up thy sword into the sheath: the cup which my Father hath given me, shall I not drink it?

A Different Kind of Kingdom

Jesus said to Peter, “Put your sword up. Don't use it on My behalf.” So the so-called pacifists, the folk who think that the Sixth Commandment forbids war, say, “Even the Lord Jesus Christ Himself forbade man to go to war.” No, He didn't. He simply told Peter to put his sword up–not to use it on His behalf. Isn't that the same thing? No, it isn't. The Lord Jesus Christ Himself made the distinction when He was standing before Pilate, in verse 33:

John 18

33Then Pilate entered into the judgment hall again, and called Jesus, and said unto him, Art thou the King of the Jews?
34Jesus answered him, Sayest thou this thing of thyself, or did others tell it thee of me?
35Pilate answered, Am I a Jew? Thine own nation and the chief priests have delivered thee unto me: what hast thou done?

Notice this verse particularly:

Recognize that in this verse of Scripture there are two kingdoms mentioned: The Kingdom of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the kingdom of the world. When Peter took out his sword, he was trying to defend the Kingdom of God with carnal weapons, and that is always forbidden. There is no need to do that. The weapons of our warfare are not carnal; they are spiritual, mighty through God to the pulling down of strongholds (II Corinthians 10:4). The other kingdom mentioned in this verse is not the Kingdom of God, or the Kingdom of Heaven; it is the kingdom of the world, and kingdom of the world must be defended with the sword. The Lord Jesus Christ said, “If I had been talking about the kingdom of this world, I would have said, 'Peter, you get out that sword and use it'.”

Will you notice that the Lord Jesus Christ did not tell Peter to throw away the sword? He said, “Put it up. Put it back in its sheath. There is a time to use a sword, but it is not now.”

Use of Force Justified

So the Lord Jesus Christ, in the very Scripture the so-called pacifists use to disallow war, was saying that if you are dealing with the world, you are going to have to use the methods of the world. If you are dealing with the Kingdom of God, you do not need force.

Beloved, we are not in the Kingdom yet. I wish we were, but we are not. We are living in a world that is ruled by the Devil, and if you try to live in the Devil's world on the principles of the Kingdom of Heaven that is to come upon the earth, you will lose all the liberties and rights that you have, and you will not have an opportunity to live your testimony for Christ.

So, we repeat, this simple little Commandment of few words, “Thou shalt not kill,” does not rule out capital punishment, and it does not rule out going to war. We cannot exhaust the meaning of this Commandment by simply saying, “Thou shalt not kill.”

The Lord Jesus Christ in the Gospels, and the Holy Spirit in the Epistles, had some thought provoking things to say about this Commandment. I say “thought provoking” because I am going to be honest with you; I do not have the explanation for some of the things we are going to read. All I can tell you is what the Word of God says. It is not sufficient for us to dismiss these warnings in the Bible with a shrug of our shoulders, saying, “Oh, well, the grace of God takes care of everything.” That is riding too close to the edge of the precipice for your own good.

Jesus Explains the Sixth Commandment

Will you turn, please, to the Gospel of Matthew, chapter 5. When the Lord Jesus Christ was speaking of this very Commandment He referred to it as “that which was said of old time”:

Matthew 5

21Ye 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:
22But 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.

Will you notice particularly the first part of this 22nd verse, where unvented anger is associated with murder: “I say unto you, That whosoever is angry with his brother…” My Bible says, “without a cause.” That phrase, “without a cause,” is not in the original text. I don't know why the translators put it there. Perhaps they did not want to be too hard on us. “whosoever is angry with his brother shall be in danger of the judgment.”

The reason why I am treading slowly right here, with real thought, is that I wonder whether we realize (I hardly know how to say this) how close we come to breaking this Sixth Commandment every time we get mad. How many of us get mad and excuse it with a shrug of our shoulders? How many of us get mad and say, “Well, I shouldn't lose my temper, I know.” If you should kill someone, do you think you could excuse it that lightly? Do you think the law would excuse it that lightly? How many of us lose our tempers and say, “Well, I know I should not get mad; but I declare, they are the most irritating people.” We justify it in some way. We try to find a cause. Do you think we could go about killing people, and as they lie there in their own blood, say, “Well, I know I should not kill him; but he is so irritating?”

Perhaps I am being extreme, but I want you to see that you do not dismiss this Sixth Commandment by simple talk of bloodletting. The Lord Jesus Christ amplified it, and said that the thing that is closest to murder is anger. I never meditate along these lines without wondering how many of us, but for the grace of God, would have wound up in the electric chair or the gas chamber. Only the grace of God has kept some of us from it, as mad as we get.

A Condition of the Heart

Will you turn, please, to the Gospel of Matthew, chapter 15, verse 19, and notice another thing that should concern us in relation to this Commandment. Let me say as we begin to look at these Scriptures that the violation of this Commandment is an indication of the condition of our heart–an indication of the spiritual condition of our heart, if you please:

Matthew 15

19For out of the heart proceed evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, blasphemies:
20These are the things which defile a man: but to eat with unwashen hands defileth not a man.

We are interested in what is found here in verse 19: “Out of the heart proceed evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications.” Murder; where does it come from? It comes from an unregenerated heart. That leads me to ask a very pointed question: What is the heart condition of a man who murders? What is the heart condition of a man who gets angry to the extent of murder?

Will you turn with me , please, to the book of Romans, chapter 1, and notice verse 28:

Romans 1

28And even as they did not like to retain God in their knowledge, God gave them over to a reprobate mind, to do those things which are not convenient;
29Being filled with all unrighteousness, fornication, wickedness, covetousness, maliciousness; full of envy, murder, debate, deceit, malignity; whisperers,
30Backbiters, haters of God, despiteful, proud, boasters, inventors of evil things, disobedient to parents,
31Without understanding, covenantbreakers, without natural affection, implacable, unmerciful:

Fulfilling the Lusts of the Flesh

We will stop right there and notice particularly the statement in verse 29: The source of murder is an unregenerated heart. You may be saying, “What does that have to do with us? We are not unregenerated.” Turn with me to the book of Galatians, please, and notice chapter 5, verse 16:

Galatians 5

16This I say then, Walk in the Spirit, and ye shall not fulfil the lust of the flesh.

We are not concerned now primarily with walking in the Spirit; we are concerned about that last phrase: walking in the flesh. If we walk in the flesh, what will characterize our lives? Look at verse 19:

Galatians 5

19Now the works of the flesh are manifest, which are these; Adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lasciviousness,
20Idolatry, witchcraft, hatred, variance, emulations, wrath, strife, seditions, heresies,
21Envyings, murders, drunkenness, revellings, and such like: of the which I tell you before, as I have also told you in time past, that they which do such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God.

Will you notice the word “murders”; that is what we are interested in now. It is listed as one of the works of the flesh, and we are told in this chapter that if we fail to walk in the Spirit as Christians, and walk in the flesh, we could be guilty of murder. Haven't you heard people say any number of times, “Oh, he is a saved man. Of course he is not walking in the Spirit, but he is a pretty good old fellow.” Do you realize the danger of walking in the flesh? Do you realize that a born-again person can walk in the flesh and wind up killing somebody? Murder is an indication of an unregenerated heart or an indication of a life that is not spiritual.

More Than Bloodletting

When we are talking about violating this Commandment, we are talking about more than bloodletting, aren't we? Will you turn, please, to the First Epistle of John, and notice a passage of Scripture which I trust the Holy Spirit will minister to your hearts in the way that He sees fit, for I have no explanation for this passage. I offer it to you because it is here in the Word of God:

I John 3

11For this is the message that ye heard from the beginning, that we should love one another.
12Not as Cain, who was of that wicked one, and slew his brother. And wherefore slew he him? Because his own works were evil, and his brother's righteous.
13Marvel not, my brethren, if the world hate you.
14We know that we have passed from death unto life, because we love the brethren. He that loveth not his brother abideth in death.
15Whosoever hateth his brother is a murderer: and ye know that no murderer hath eternal life abiding in him.

Hate - a Serious Emotion

Notice the first part of this verse particularly: “Whosoever hateth his brother is a murderer.” What is murder? It is hate, and the individual who hates, as far as God's evaluation is concerned, is a murderer. I have heard people say, “I can't help it; I hate him.” They say, “I try not to, but I hate him.” Have you ever heard anybody talk like that? I have. All to often it is excused with a shrug of the shoulders, but God labels it for exactly what it is. He says it is murder. You may never take a knife in your hand and break the Sixth Commandment, you may never take a gun in your hand and break the Sixth Commandment, but hear me: If you don't guard your heart, you can break this Commandment and become a murderer in the sight of God.

Just a word now: Why is this so serious? Why does God emphasize this Commandment and its seriousness? There are several reasons in the Bible. Will you go back to chapter 9 of the book of Genesis, and notice why God says that no man shall be excused when he deliberately takes the life of another man:

Genesis 9

6Whoso sheddeth man's blood, by man shall his blood be shed: for in the image of God made he man.

In the Image of God

Anybody who has a disregard for human life has a disregard for God, because man is made in the image of God. That is why it is so serious. It is not giving proper respect to God.

In chapter 35 of the book of Numbers, at which we looked a moment ago, there is another reason why God insists that murder shall not go unpunished:

Numbers 35

32And ye shall take no satisfaction for him that is fled to the city of his refuge, that he should come again to dwell in the land, until the death of the priest.

Notice verse 33

You will notice the first part of verse 33: Murder defiles the land. The only way the land can be cleansed is by the practice of capital punishment.

It is always interesting to see how the Word of God speaks before records have a chance to be proven. Because we know that the Word of God is true, we know, in spite of what present statistics may indicate, that if capital punishment is permanently abolished, our land will be defiled with the blood of innocent people who will be murdered without thought or concern by those whose hearts are not right before God.

Usurping the Place of God

We will not take the time to turn to the book of Isaiah, chapter 35, but there is another reason there why murder is frowned upon by God. When you murder, you usurp the place of God, because you determine how long a Christian has a right to live, and God is the only one who has a right to determine that. Our times are in His hands. Our life is in His hands He alone has the right to say, “This day shall your life end.” It is His sovereign right. Joseph said to his brethren one day, who thought surely he would kill them because of their betrayal of him, “Ye think that I am God, to take life as I please? I am not God; I have no right to take anybody's life” (Genesis 50:19). The individual who takes the life of another person is usurping the law and the place of God.

Upsetting God's Plan

The last thing I want to call to your attention is another reason why God frowns on murder and emphasizes this Commandment as He does no other Commandment of the Ten. This is the only Commandment that is specifically related to death. All of the Commandments, as you know, are related to spiritual death, but this Commandment is specifically related to physical death. Another reason and the last that I want you to see, is that when you murder, you upset God's plan for an individual life. God has a plan for every individual life. He has it from the moment of conception, and when you take it into your hands to take the life of an individual, you are cutting off a life and upsetting a plan the importance of which only eternity will reveal.

There is a lot of talk in this day and time about mercy killings. Do we, do doctors, do individuals who are related to sick people, have a right to take life on the basis of mercy? It is ruled out by what I am saying to you now. God has a plan, and part of that plan may include pain and suffering. When you take it into your own hands to relieve that pain and suffering to the point of taking life, you are upsetting God's plan. You are usurping God's place.

I am going to say something, with great care and I trust with delicacy, since we are a mixed audience. There is another kind of murder that is very serious in the sight of God, and it is what is commonly referred to as abortion. It is frightening to know the number of abortions that are performed in our country every day. The most startling thing about it is that those abortions for the most part are not performed on unwed mothers, young girls who have had unfortunate experiences; they are performed on married women who have decided that they have all the children they want to have. They take life to limit their families. That is murder, and it is wrong in God's sight for the reason that a life and a plan have been upset. Have you ever stopped to think what would have happened if some of the mothers who gave birth to individuals who have been a tremendous blessing to this world had prevented their birth? Meditate on that a while, and you will see why it is so serious to usurp God's place and upset God's plan in relation to human life.

“Thou shalt not kill,” God said. Remember it involves more than simply letting blood.

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