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  • Writer's pictureBishop Dr Peter (UK)


Exodus 20:13 (Young’s Literal Translation)

The Sixth Commandment

Thou dost not murder.

Notes on the Scripture

This phrase is rendered in just two words in the original Hebrew: “Never murder.” The King James translation, “Thou shalt not kill,” simply got it wrong. If one reads the Old Testament, interpreting this as a general prohibition against taking human life cannot be correct, anyway. Those who would argue against the death penalty, for example, need to look to the New Testament for their arguments.

(Just to be crystal clear, Daily Prayer does not advocate for or against governmental capital punishment or any other political controversy. Our purpose is to read what is written without preconception, to derive and study the explicit meaning of the Bible, rather than imposing our own biases or opinions upon it.)

Reading Exodus, we study the law of Moses, and not just the Ten Commandments. The attitude towards taking human life is quite different from most of modern Western society. God prescribes the death penalty for numerous offenses; even more pointedly, in the early history books, He will allow or even encourage what we would call genocide. In the conquest of Canaan, where a city chose to fight against the Israelites, the Hebrew army was commanded to kill all the men (although they might take women and children as “plunder”). (Deuteronomy 20:10-18) In other cases, however, heathen women and children are put to the sword. (E.g. Numbers 31:7-18.)

This raises a very basic issue of the origin of morality. Atheism has no regard for human life. An atheist might believe human life is sacred, but it is simply a personal opinion. Atheism has no moral source, no anchor, no guide except the mental state of whoever can seize power. When Christ came along, the civilized world was the world of Rome, and the Romans certainly had no concept of any inherited sanctity in human life! This is an almost exclusively Christian concept.

Over the course of 2000 years, the prevailing Christian culture of Western Europe has, with painful slowness and difficulty, implanted the idea that killing people is innately immoral. It has sunk deeply into our cultural fabric. And without faith in the Bible, it can just as easily evaporate.

One of the great stupidities of atheist thought is that this regard for human life will survive without this anchor to God. Probably a majority of the people in the west are post-Christian atheists and agnostics. They will tell you that murder is wrong, but they have no concept of why they believe this.

And, in point of fact, where Christianity is repressed, regard for human life disappears. Three words prove this beyond argument: Mao, Stalin, and Hitler (in approximate order of a number of people killed), who collectively have more than 100 million deaths to their credit.

We hold the lives of others as sacred because Christ tells us to do so, not because we are naturally good or moral. God is always right. If He told the Israelites to kill all the inhabitants in a town, He had a good reason. We cannot understand God’s plan.

But here, at the dawn of morality sometime prior to 1000 B.C., God forbids us from committing murder, that is, an individual decision to take another human life for one’s own purpose. This has not changed, and there is never an exception in the Bible, Old Testament, or New.

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