Wednesday, February 14, 2007

"Thou Shall Not Kill" or "Thou Shall Not Murder"?

In my recent post about abortion, Stephen Fife objected to my differentiation between killing and murder:

To push the point the Bible very clearly states Thou shalt not kill (we mistranslate it as murder to appease our consciences, but the Hebrew is kill). So to say one is not being immoral by killing of the foe can be argued against from a biblical standpoint.

I've only just begun studying Hebrew, but thanks to BibleWorks 7, a little goes a very long way. So I looked up the verse Ex 20:13 (and Deu 5:17) in the Westminster Hebrew OT Morphology. I shall provide only transliterations of the Hebrew, as I've never figured out how to get non-Latin letters to display properly in Blogger. The word is 'pual' -- to crush, murder, or slay.

It is used frequently in the OT. Num 35:6, 35:11-12, 35:16-19, 35:21, 35:25-31 use the term in reference to those who have committed manslaughter and the legal consequences thereof.

Deu 4:42, 19:3, and 19:6 address the same topic. Deu 22:26 states that murder is punishable by death. If Stephen's interpretation is correct, then this verse contradicts itself.

Jos 20:3-6 also consider the crime of manslaughter and remedies for it, as do v.13, 21, 27, 32, and 38. This Hebrew word is also used to describe the brutal murder of a Levite's concubine which caused a scandal in Jdg 20:4. It appears to describe Jezebel's murder of the vineyard owner Naboth in 1 Ki 21:19, condemned by God in the same verse. In 2 Ki 6:32, Elisha uses it to describe the wicked king of Israel.

Job 24:14 describes the murderer as a criminal. The narrators of Psalms 62:4 and 42:11 use forms of the word to describe the actions of their enemies. Psalm 94:6 uses the word to describe the wicked who kill specifically widows, orphans, and sojourners. Pro 22:13 uses it to describe a lion attack.

Isa 1:21 uses it to describe the depravity of Jerusalem. Jer 7:9 lists it among a number of commands for righteousness. Eze 21:27 uses it to describe the crushed remains of Babylon. Hos 4:2 lists murder among the many sins of the Israelites and 6:9 compares the priests of Israel to robbers and murderers.

With a handful of exceptions, all uses of pual refer to the criminal act of murder. At no point is it used to describe killing in battle, so I think that there is a clear difference between the two concepts. But I await the assessment of those with a stronger command of Hebrew than me. Perhaps Michael will chime in, as he is (if I recall correctly) fluent in Hebrew.

UPDATE: Dr. Joe Cathey e-mails:

will throw my hat into the ring so to speak. I have a Ph.D. in Hebrew Bible so I know a bit about the language. You are correct in that the commandment should be translated as "You shall do no murder."

Probably the best indactor of this is the semantic domain of the word in question here. If we trace out the semantic domain and see how this word is used in relation to other words for "kill," "put to death," "murder," "slay," "slaughter," etc. we see that the Hebrew's had a great many of words they could have used here.

I find it interesting that the word used here is not the same one used in Levitical laws for sacrificial killing. In the laws of the Hebrew bible there were strict laws for killing. (Yes, the Hebrew bible does sanction killing of animals, in other cases humans. Those who argue to the contrary either deny parts of the scripture or are unfamiliar with certain passages).

In any case, I can cite a good number of scriptures if you wish or you can read my review of a book which dealt with this very topic here - http://www.bookreviews.org/pdf/4948_5178.pdf

In this review I cover most all of what I have brought up above but with examples.

I will throw my hat into the ring so to speak. I have a Ph.D. in Hebrew Bible so I know a bit about the language. You are correct in that the commandment should be translated as "You shall do no murder."

Probably the best indactor of this is the semantic domain of the word in question here. If we trace out the semantic domain and see how this word is used in relation to other words for "kill," "put to death," "murder," "slay," "slaughter," etc. we see that the Hebrew's had a great many of words they could have used here.

I find it interesting that the word used here is not the same one used in Levitical laws for sacrificial killing. In the laws of the Hebrew bible there were strict laws for killing. (Yes, the Hebrew bible does sanction killing of animals, in other cases humans. Those who argue to the contrary either deny parts of the scripture or are unfamiliar with certain passages).

In any case, I can cite a good number of scriptures if you wish or you can read my review of a book which dealt with this very topic here - http://www.bookreviews.org/pdf/4948_5178.pdf

In this review I cover most all of what I have brought up above but with examples.

I will throw my hat into the ring so to speak. I have a Ph.D. in Hebrew Bible so I know a bit about the language. You are correct in that the commandment should be translated as "You shall do no murder."

Probably the best indactor of this is the semantic domain of the word in question here. If we trace out the semantic domain and see how this word is used in relation to other words for "kill," "put to death," "murder," "slay," "slaughter," etc. we see that the Hebrew's had a great many of words they could have used here.

I find it interesting that the word used here is not the same one used in Levitical laws for sacrificial killing. In the laws of the Hebrew bible there were strict laws for killing. (Yes, the Hebrew bible does sanction killing of animals, in other cases humans. Those who argue to the contrary either deny parts of the scripture or are unfamiliar with certain passages).

In any case, I can cite a good number of scriptures if you wish or you can read my review of a book which dealt with this very topic here - http://www.bookreviews.org/pdf/4948_5178.pdf

In this review I cover most all of what I have brought up above but with examples.

For the record - The bible not only says that you shall not do murder but it also says that if you see someone about to be murdered and you do not stop it then you are guilty of their blood.

8 comments:

Matt said...

I'm neither a student of ancient Hebrew, nor a theologian, but in my bible studies, we've been taught that it was murder , not kill, so I would support the original post.

Andy B. said...

Coming to a consensus about what the 10 commandments say about killing or murder seems to be a bit of tap dancing. Let's say we all magically agree that it's "murder" not "kill" - it is still possible to believe that non-murder killing is wrong, no?

bob said...

Andy, A consensus about murder and killing in the Bible is important because this shows what the Bible forbids. Now personally you can be against anything you want but society is different. The two examples given against killing, war and the death penalty are societal issues.God allowed for executions and war because at times these acts served the society better than the alternatives.

tim said...

It's been a few years since my Hebrew, but I've gotten out my BDB (Brown-Driver-Briggs Lexicon) and the Hebrew OT. I'm a little confused: the verb I see in Ex. 20:13 is "ratsakh" (that's my poor transcription of the basic form).

But the usage and translation agrees with what you've said: "murder, slay." In fact, for Ex. 20:13 and Dt. 5:17 (and several others), it is used a bit more particularly: "murder, slay, with premeditation."

All of the citations of "ratsakh" in BDB have the connotation of the criminal act of murder, assassination, or unintentional manslaughter, except for Num. 35:27, 30, where it means, "slay, as avenger." 35:27—This passage talks about someone killing a murderer to avenge the original death, and it's allowed in certain circumstances. 35:30—here "ratsakh" is used to describe the execution of a murderer as legal punishment.

Interestingly, I looked up its use in Joshua, where there's plenty of killing in war going on. It only appears there in ch. 20, and once again, it's talking about murder and the criminal code.

So I get the same interpretation John does. It's not all killing, but murder and manslaughter that are prohibited in the Ten Commandments and the Law. And this agrees with what one of my college professors (an ordained minister) said to us when we were studying the OT. And he was a liberal, too, so I don't expect he was saying this out of any personal bias.

John—I'm still confused by the transliteration, though. I see now that I've cited many of the same passages you did, so we've got to be talking about the same word.

John Meunier said...

This is a fascinating discussion.

I think we see this distinction made all the time.

In Iraq, our soldiers shoot and kill people attacking them or other innocents.

But, when a soldier hauls someone out of a house, kills him, and then tries to make it look like he was an insurgent after the fact, our military justice system convenes a court martial.

Now, whether Jesus approves of this distinction is not as clear to me.

Stephen said...

Man, I take the day off and I pop up on Locusts and Honey. This shalt be a reminder to you all: Thou shalt not take the day off!

Pax

John said...

Andy Bryan wrote:

Coming to a consensus about what the 10 commandments say about killing or murder seems to be a bit of tap dancing. Let's say we all magically agree that it's "murder" not "kill" - it is still possible to believe that non-murder killing is wrong, no?

I have no problems with that. True pacifism is a Biblically sound position that in no way rejects the Gospel.

John said...

John—I'm still confused by the transliteration, though. I see now that I've cited many of the same passages you did, so we've got to be talking about the same word.

Dunno. I need a stronger command of Hebrew first.