(Exodus 20:13) Do the Ten Commandments Say “Thou Shalt Not Kill” or “Thou Shalt Not Murder”?

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“Thou shalt not kill.” (Exodus 20:13, King James Version)

“You shall not murder.” (Exodus 20:13, New King James Version)

It is argued that judicial killing is not murder and that the Ten Commandments teach “Thou shalt not murder” instead of “Thou shalt not kill.” Here is one explanation expressing this point from www.gotquestions.org/you-shall-not-murder:

“There are two different Hebrew words (ratsakh, mut) and two Greek words (phoneuo, apokteino) for ‘murder’ and ‘killing.’ One means ‘to put to death,’ and the other means ‘to murder.’ The latter one [ratsakh/murder] is the one prohibited by the Ten Commandments, not the former. In fact, ratsakh has a broader definition than the English word ‘murder.’ Ratsakh also covers deaths due to carelessness or neglect but is never used when describing killing during wartime. That is why most modern translations render the sixth commandment ‘You shall not murder’ rather than ‘You shall not kill.’ However, a very large issue can arise depending on which translation one studies. The ever-popular King James Version renders the verse as ‘Thou shalt not kill,’ therefore opening the door to misinterpreting the verse altogether. If the intended meaning of ‘Thou shalt not kill’ was just that—no killing—it would render all of the God-endorsed bloodletting done by the nation of Israel a violation of God’s own commandment (Deuteronomy 20). But God does not break His own commandments, so, clearly, the verse does not call for a complete moratorium on the taking of another human life.”

According to the above statement the two words in question and their apparent definitions are:

  • Ratsakh = murder = forbidden
  • Mut = judicial/war killing = not forbidden

Ratsakh Can Also Mean Accidental Death

A careful examination of the Scripture reveals that the above argument is false. Firstly, within the very explanation the writer acknowledges that ratsakh not only means murder but accidental death which we call manslaughter.

Strong’s Concordance definition of ratsakh: “put to death, kill, manslayer, murderer.”

Manslaughter is not murder.

However, if he pushes him suddenly without enmity, or throws anything at him without lying in wait, or uses a stone, by which a man could die, throwing it at him without seeing him, so that he dies, while he was not his enemy or seeking his harm, then the congregation shall judge between the manslayer and the avenger of blood according to these judgments. So the congregation shall deliver the manslayer (ratsakh) from the hand of the avenger of blood, and the congregation shall return him to the city of refuge where he had fled, and he shall remain there until the death of the high priest who was anointed with the holy oil.” (Numbers 35:22-25, New King James Version)

“Then Moses set apart three cities on this side of the Jordan, toward the rising of the sun, that the manslayer (ratsakh) might flee there, who kills (ratsakh) his neighbor unintentionally, without having hated him in time past, and that by fleeing to one of these cities he might live.” (Deuteronomy 4:42, New King James Version)

So, since The Ten Commandments uses the word ratsakh, then it must not only be forbidding murder, but must also be saying, “Thou shalt not kill someone unintentionally.” The above author wrote: “But God does not break His own commandments” because he believes God never commanded murder, only judicial killing such in times of war. However, the next verse proves his statement false:

“Whoever kills a person, the murderer (ratsakh) shall be put to death (ratsach) on the testimony of witnesses; but one witness is not sufficient testimony against a person for the death penalty.” (Numbers 35:30, New King James Version)

If ratsakh only means murder, then the above command would read, “Whoever kills a person, the murderer (ratsakh) shall be murdered (ratsakh) on the testimony of witnesses.” God is certainly commanding His people to murder the murderer. Therefore, ratsakh can also be used in the context of judicial killing.

But how could it be possible that God could command things that the Ten Commandments forbids? In short, God could command any form of death in the Scriptures because God seeks to secure the sentence of death in order to give mercy, not to kill people. The commanding of death makes the sin abound in the person’s conscience, not to condemn, but to bring conviction in order for the sinner to accept God’s everlasting grace in order for the sinner to “go, and sin no more.” (See, Romans 5:20; John 8:1-11). Through Ezekiel God says He will answer us according to our own idols (preconcieved ideas) that we cherish in our heart (Ezekiel 14:4). He does this so we will be convicted in our hearts/conscience (verse 5), and that we may repent from our idols/preconcieved ideas (verse 6). When God does this we often misinterpret it to mean that this is how God is like, when He in fact is revealing to us what we are like. Please see the booklet entitled, The Conviction of Sin and Righteousness for a full explanation of this.

The Hebrew Word mut Can Also Mean Murder

The word mut in Scripture is also used to describe murder, and assassination. Saul desired to unlawfully murder David:

“Now Saul spoke to Jonathan his son and to all his servants, that they should kill (mut) David; but Jonathan, Saul’s son, delighted greatly in David. So Jonathan told David, saying, ‘My father Saul seeks to kill (mut) you. Therefore please be on your guard until morning, and stay in a secret place and hide.’” (1 Samuel 19:1, 2)

Saul ordered the unlawful murder of the priesthood:

“Then the king said to the guards who stood about him, ‘Turn and kill (mut) the priests of the Lord, because their hand also is with David, and because they knew when he fled and did not tell it to me.’ But the servants of the king would not lift their hands to strike the priests of the Lord. And the king said to Doeg, ‘You turn and kill (fall upon) the priests!’ So Doeg the Edomite turned and struck the priests, and killed (mut) on that day eighty-five men who wore a linen ephod.  (1 Samuel 22:17, 18, New King James Version)

The assassination of Isbosheth:

“For when they came into the house, he was lying on his bed in his bedroom; then they struck him and killed (mut) him, beheaded him and took his head, and were all night escaping through the plain.” (2 Samuel 4:7, New King James Version)

Absalom orders the unlawful murder of his half-brother Amnon:

“Now Absalom had commanded his servants, saying, ‘Watch now, when Amnon’s heart is merry with wine, and when I say to you, ‘Strike Amnon!’ then kill (mut) him. Do not be afraid. Have I not commanded you? Be courageous and valiant.’” (2 Samuel 13:28, New King James Version)

Athaliah murders all the king’s sons except Joash:

“But Jehosheba, the daughter of King Joram, sister of Ahaziah, took Joash the son of Ahaziah, and stole him away from among the king’s sons who were being murdered (mut); and they hid him and his nurse in the bedroom, from Athaliah, so that he was not killed (mut).” (2 Kings 11:2, New King James Version)

Notice how the New International Version relates the word mut (kill) with nakah (assassination) in the following verse:

“One of his chief officers, Pekah son of Remaliah, conspired against him. Taking fifty men of Gilead with him, he assassinated (nakah) Pekahiah, along with Argob and Arieh, in the citadel of the royal palace at Samaria. So Pekah killed (mut) Pekahiah and succeeded him as king.” (2 Kings 15:25)

If the Hebrew word mut is not forbidden because it portrays righteous killing of a murderer or enemy of war, then is it possible for the wicked to so-called righteously slay a person?

“The wicked watches the righteous, and seeks to slay (mut) him.” (Psalm 37:32)

“Because he (the wicked) did not remember to show mercy, but persecuted the poor and needy man, that he might even slay (mut) the broken in heart. As he loved cursing, so let it come to him; as he did not delight in blessing, so let it be far from him.” (Psalm 109:16, 17)

Jeremiah warns against those seeking to murder him by using the Hebrew word mut:

“Therefore now amend your ways and your doings, and obey the voice of the LORD your God; and the LORD will repent him of the evil that he hath pronounced against you.1 As for me, behold, I am in your hand: do with me as seemeth good and meet unto you.  But know ye for certain, that if ye put me to death (mut), ye shall surely bring innocent blood upon yourselves, and upon this city, and upon the inhabitants thereof: for of a truth the LORD hath sent me unto you to speak all these words in your ears.” (Jeremiah 26:13-16, King James Version)

So, the word mut can indeed be used to mean murder and assassination and the word ratsakh can be used for accidental death. This proves false the claim that mut is somehow only for righteous killing and ratsach for murder.

God’s Kingdom Never Uses Force

Lastly, regardless of how this is defined, both murder and judicial killing employ lethal force. Is the use of force part of God’s kingdom?

“But I tell you not to resist an evil person. But whoever slaps you on your right cheek, turn the other to him also.” (Matthew 5:39)

Did Jesus demonstrate this as part of His character?

"When they heaped abuse on Him (Jesus), He did not retaliate; when He suffered, He made no threats, but entrusted Himself to Him who judges justly." (1 Peter 2:23, Berean Study Bible)

If judicial killing is part of God’s character, then this must have been revealed in the earthly life of Jesus. Yet it is nowhere revealed that He carefully weighed the life of a person and then ordered them put to death. In fact, He said just the opposite when James and John desired to kill the unbelieving Samaritans:

“Now it came to pass, when the time had come for Him to be received up, that He steadfastly set His face to go to Jerusalem, and sent messengers before His face. And as they went, they entered a village of the Samaritans, to prepare for Him. But they did not receive Him, because His face was set for the journey to Jerusalem. And when His disciples James and John saw this, they said, ‘Lord, do You want us to command fire to come down from heaven and consume them, just as Elijah did?’ But He turned and rebuked them, and said, ‘You do not know what manner of spirit you are of. For the Son of Man did not come to destroy men’s lives but to save them.” And they went to another village.” (Luke 9:51-56)

Here we see that not only the disciples were in the wrong to even think about killing them, but also Elijah when he was commanding fire down from heaven to destroy his enemies (2 Kings 1:9-13). Does God allow some to kill, but not others? Was it permissible to kill offenders in the Old Testament (such as adulterers and Sabbath-breakers) but not in the New? What answer can be given to the person who says to the Lord, “I followed your example in the Old Testament when I put this evil doer to death.” Shall it be said to such a person, “You followed the wrong example, that part of Scripture is not for you to follow.” Can you see that it makes things very difficult?

Jesus explains further about the kingdom of God:

“Jesus answered, ‘My kingdom is not of this world. If My kingdom were of this world, My servants would fight, so that I should not be delivered to the Jews; but now My kingdom is not from here.’” (John 18:36, New King James Version)

Christ is not saying that if His kingdom came down to this world His servants would use force and fight. Jesus is making it clear that His kingdom is not governed by the worldly standards of force and coercion. He says “if My kingdom were of this world” then He would employ worldly standards, but since His kingdom is not of this world no force is to be used.

“If Christ's kingdom had been a worldly one, set up on worldly views, and governed with worldly policy, and was to answer some worldly ends, Christ would have had servants enough among the Jews, who would have declared for him, and took up arms in his favour against the Romans; his own disciples would not have suffered him to have been betrayed into the hands of the Jews by Judas; nor would he have hindered them from attempting his rescue … [However] it [the kingdom of God] does not rise out of, nor proceed upon, nor is it supported by worldly principles, wherefore none of the above methods are made use of.” (John Gill’s Exposition of the Bible)

We know this to be true, for when Peter resorted to fight with force by cutting off the high priest’s servant’s ear with his sword, Jesus responded by saying, “Put your sword in its place, for all who take the sword will perish by the sword.” (Matthew 26:52). For more info on this, see the article: Didn’t God Command the Israelites to Slaughter Men, Women, and Children With the Sword?

Again, we will do well to put our full trust in God’s ways, for He has proclaimed: “Not by might nor by power, but by My Spirit, Says the LORD of hosts.” (Zechariah 4:6).

I hope you have reached a point where you can see that major contradictions exist in Scripture when we allow ourselves to believe that God uses lethal force and exterminates people. If we do, then we are invited to go on our knees and ask our Father how to explain these apparent contradictions. The Bible appears to plainly teach that He uses lethal force on people but then if we accept this, we have a terrible conflict in trying to harmonize the entire Bible together, and it only becomes cherry-picking the passages we like. Defending a god of force and coercion is an attempt to justify our own fallen character. We tend to project our own sinful justice system onto the god we serve. When the God of the Bible remains silent toward our sinfulness, we then believe He is condoning the wrongful act thinking He is just like us.

“But to the wicked God says: ‘What right have you to declare My statutes, or take My covenant in your mouth, seeing you hate instruction And cast My words behind you? When you saw a thief, you consented[c] with him, and have been a partaker with adulterers. You give your mouth to evil, And your tongue frames deceit. You sit and speak against your brother; You slander your own mother’s son. These things you have done, and I kept silent; you thought that I was altogether like you; but I will rebuke you, and set them in order before your eyes.” (Psalm 50:16-21, New King James Version)

The person whose mind is at enmity against God will seek vengeance against someone who has murdered their child because they have developed a hatred for that person to the point of desiring that person to suffer and die. God, however, works the very opposite of this. He has said, “My thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways My ways.” (Isaiah 55:8). He is never “willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance.” (2 Peter 3:9). When His Son was murdered, He sought for the offenders to accept His forgiveness (Luke 23:34).

In this fallen world, forgiving others is easier said than done. This is why we need to have the mind of Christ in order for our thoughts to be God’s thoughts and our ways to be God’s ways. Scripture promises that if we have this mind, then we will love our neighbor as ourselves (Leviticus 19:8; Matthew 22:39).

Imagine a slightly different scenario to the one we just mentioned. Instead of a stranger murdering your child, what if it was the child’s sibling? Would you feel any different towards a child of yours who committed this murder against one of your other children than you would if it were a total stranger? Would you seek the death penalty on your own child, or would you fight for the courts to lock him/her up and plead they get the help they need? Does a fellow human being become worthless in your eyes simply because they are a stranger?

Prophecy fortold that the Messiah would "magnify the Law" (Isaiah 42:21). While on earth Jesus magnified the original concept of the Command "Thou shalt not kill" to include hating, tearing people down and considering them worthless: 

"Ye have heard that it was said by them of old time, Thou shalt not kill; and whosoever shall kill shall be in danger of the judgment: 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 (i.e. considers them worthless), shall be in danger of the council: but whosoever shall say, Thou fool, shall be in danger of hell fire." (Matthew 5:21, 22, King James Version)

Do you love your neighbor as if they were your own child? Let us all bear in mind that we are dealing with souls that Christ has purchased with infinite cost to Himself; “for you will be evaluated by the same standard as you evaluate others.” (Matthew 7:1-2). We must always remember that Jesus Himself feels every positive or negative thought and action in how we treat others (Matthew 25:31-46).

“Therefore, as God’s chosen ones, holy and dearly loved, put on compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience, bearing with one another and forgiving one another if anyone has a grievance against another. Just as the Lord has forgiven you, so you are also to forgive.” (Colossians 3:12, 13, Christian Standard Bible)


1 For a deeper study concerning God repenting from doing evil, see the article about Jeremiah 18:7, 8 entitled: Why Does God Say He Will Repent of Doing Evil?