Sunday, March 17, 2013

Thou Shalt Not Kill: missed the translation on that one!

I've been trying to read through the Bible about once a year, but it usually ends up taking me a little longer than a year, or has so far. I'm on my third reading right now...and behind schedule, I think. Its the journey, not the destination, so I'll be OK no matter how long it takes.

For some reason, I seem to be seeing references to the 10 Commandments quite a bit lately. I think they've been there anyway; its not something new where its all of a sudden in front of me more often. However, I am seeing more reference to it around me. I believe that God does that for me to get me thinking. I don't always know exactly why, but it shows up somewhere, every time.

So I'm reading the Old Testament now, and have just completed reading the exodus of the Israelites out of Egypt and into the Promised Land. They've been settled for a little while now; ballpark they've been there 150 years total. The whole history of the 40 years in the desert and the events of that time are all in there. Its not been a terribly long time that Moses brought the 10 Commandments off the mountain.

And here's what strikes me about them: the 6th Commandment can't possibly be translated correctly. In both of my Bibles, a New American Standard and a Revised Standard Edition, both use the word "kill": Exodus 2:13, "You shall not kill". But read the rest of the Old Testament and that word can't be right...unless its a word being used that has multiple definitions. If it was simply killing that was prohibited, then God would be going against his word, which does not happen. Killing can't be wrong in and of itself. A couple of examples: as Israel is being set up, God commands them to set up "safe cities", where a man who causes the death of his neighbor by accident can go until a trail can be held; sort of protective custody where he's sequestered away from the family of the deceased. This only applies in accidental deaths, which I think we call manslaughter now. Then there's the entire peoples that were "delivered into your [Israel's] hand." What's that mean? It means God not only sanctioned, but ordered Israel to kill off an entire people. That's what "put to the edge of the sword" means: quite literally putting the edge of the sword with force and extreme prejudice on a body and taking it's life. So "kill" can't be the right word.

Replace "kill" with "murder". Now it makes a lot more sense. says "murder" is defined as "Law. the killing of another human being under conditions specifically covered in law. In the U.S., special statutory definitions include murder committed with malice aforethought, characterized by deliberation or premeditation or occurring during the commission of another serious crime, as robbery or arson (first-degree murder)  and murder by intent but without deliberation or premeditation (second-degree murder)." It also says that the word's origins come from between 1300-1350, which means that "kill" would be the only word available at the time, and that's why its translated that way. 

It's clear to me, though, that there is such a thing as righteous killing, and that "some people just need killin'" is also true. I don't think I need to go into a big explanation of how murder and killing are different; both the readers of my blog should already get that, and it'd make this post a lot, lot longer. Suffice it to say, not all killing is murder, and while murder is against God's law, killing isn't. As distasteful as it is, sometimes it's the right thing to do, is righteous, and needs to be done.  


Alan R. said...

Young's literal translation from the original Hebrew and Greek text of the Sixth Commandment is "`Thou dost not murder."

Bob S. said...


I can understand what you are going through here. I've been there.
Part of the confusion has derived from the King James Version - which many common translations still follow the basic format/translation

The King instructed the translators to use the Tyndale Bible (which was a 150 year old translation) and the Bishop's Bible - the latin vulgate used in the chuch.


The ordinary Bible read in the Church, commonly called the Bishops’ Bible, to be followed, and as little altered as the original will permit.

The old ecclesiastical words to be kept, as the word church, not to be translated congregation.
When any word hath divers significations, that to be kept which hath been most commonly used by the most eminent fathers, being agreeable to the propriety of the place and the analogies of faith.

You can see from the instructions; he severely hampered them by pushing the words commonly used.

A different look at the actual Hebrew would yield your view of the correct translation.

You shall not murder.
Exodus 20:13 — “רצח” or râtsach — to dash to pieces

The word used in the original Hebrew was “רצח” or râtsach — most often used to denote murder — a deliberate and intentional act of wrongful killing.

Looking at the Hebrew words for the other type of killings described shows that God was able to distinguish between murder, self defense, manslaughter, etc.

Haji said...

Thanks for that!