Thursday, March 11, 2010

Killing and Murder

My article from today's Algona Upper Des Moines about murder:

Q:  What is meant by “You shall not kill.” in the fifth commandment?  Is there ever a time when it is acceptable to kill?

This commandment from Exodus 20:13 is sometimes translated as “You shall not kill,” most notably by the King James Version and the New American Bible.  Although it is more commonly translated as “You shall not Murder.”  The difference between killing in general and the more specific act of murder is that murder is a killing that is unlawful. 

In order for a killing to be considered murder in the biblical sense, there are three requirements:  First, the killing must be intentional; second, it must be a human that is killed; and third, the killing must be unlawful or unjust. 

For example, if the fifth commandment forbade all killing, Christians and Jews would be required to live life as vegetarians.  If taken to its extreme, a prohibition against killing in general would ultimately forbid Christians from farming, driving, and many other everyday activities which have the potential to cause the death of one creature or another. 

When we look to the rest of the Bible, we see that God gave permission to Noah that he could kill animals in order to eat them.  Elsewhere, we see God specifying that certain animals are to be sacrificed as part of the Old Testament law.  In the Old Testament law, the killing of an animal that belongs to another person is forbidden, but it is treated as a property crime rather than a murder. 

There are a limited number of situations in which the Bible considers even the killing of another human not to be a sin.  The first of these is the case of capital punishment.  In several portions of the Old Testament law, God specifically commands that the leaders of Israel put people to death for certain crimes, such as murder or treason.  We still see this law in use today by our federal government and by many states of our nation. 

The second of these cases is that of a true accident, where the murder did not occur intentionally, but was the result of a mistake on the part of the killer and was not intended to cause death.  This is also reflected in our modern laws where the accidental nature of a killing can reduce or eliminate punishment for the killer.

The third case is that of self-defense.  The Bible never condemns a person for killing another as a result of defending himself or his family from a robber, intruder, or another who is seeking to harm them. 

The last circumstance in which killing is not considered murder by the Bible is the case of a soldier killing in war.  On numerous occasions in the Old Testament, God commands the army of Israel to kill the enemy who is attacking them. 

St. Augustine and Martin Luther both wrote at length concerning the righteousness or unrighteousness of a Christian serving as a soldier and taking part in killing as part of that vocation.  The general consensus arrived at was that it is acceptable for a government to make war for the purpose of defending the people of their nation and that it is even a noble vocation for a Christian to serve as a soldier for the purpose of defending his neighbors, even though that may involve killing soldiers of the enemy army. 

Under these limited circumstances, a killing would not be considered murder from a moral perspective, but otherwise, the Bible considers all instances of one human directly causing the death of another to be murder.  In fact, the Bible even considered the person who desires to murder another person to be guilty of murder in God’s eyes.  (1 John 3:15)

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