War and the Christian Worldview: To Kill or to Murder

Moses, author of the book of Deuteronomy, holding the ten commandments

Part three in the seven-part series War and The Christian Worldview

Grand Canyon University integrates its curriculum with a Christian worldview to help bring new perspectives to classroom discussions. This week, Dr. Christian Wilder walks us through dehumanization. He relates how the Bible, specifically the Book of Deuteronomy, goes against this trend in history.

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Below is a transcript of War and the Christian Worldview, episode 3, To Kill or to Murder:

Hello, my name is Dr. Christian Wilder.

I am an assistant professor in the College of Theology and I teach mainly in the online side. My area of specialty is the Old Testament which brings us to our topic for this video. The topic is how should we read the sixth commandment. The King James Version and American Standard Version as well as some others will read, thou shalt not kill but other versions read do not murder. Which one is correct? to answer that question we have to go back to the Hebrew language and in the Hebrew language the word that's used there specifically means the unjust taking of human life.

Now, what's fascinating about this word is that throughout the Old Testament, it’s used in that same way, except for one place and that is in the Book of Deuteronomy. Where they're giving a bunch of laws and the justice system for ancient Israel. In there, there's a person who's designated to take life if the other person has killed someone and the phrase that's used there is he is to murder the murderer. In that the author is actually saying that the person who committed a crime of unjustly taking life must have his life taken in the same way.

The question that may arise is their other words that can be used in the Old Testament to mean the killer, the taking of life, and the answer is yes there is. One word is what we would translate simply as to die but in Hebrew there is a what's called a causal stem and when a word is used in that stem it means that the subject is causing the verb to the object. We see this all of the time in the Old Testament where so-and-so caused so-and-so to die. In fact, if you go back to that same passage in Deuteronomy, what you find is a little bit earlier it reads that that the person who's designated is to cause the death of the person who committed murder and moreover the person who causes the death is not guilty of murder.

So I think from a purely Old Testament perspective, it's pretty clear that the text says do not murder and that it's an unjust taking of life and, really interestingly, that's never used for Israel or their enemies in a time of war. But as Christians, we can't just leave it in the Old Testament.

We must take all of our Old Testament interpretation and bring it through the New Testament. And so as we move into the New Testament, we see that Jesus speaks to this exact same commandment in the sermon on the mount Chapter 5 of Matthew. There he anonymizes the text and instead of saying “Moses” he says “you have heard it said” which is placing Jesus at a higher level than Moses.

This should signal to us as Christians that this is something we really need to pay attention to when it comes to the sixth commandment and then he equates murder with anger. That we shouldn't even be angry with our brothers and sisters but then he goes even further than that and he says that we shouldn't call people blockhead or a fool. If you think about all of these terms and anger what he's saying is anything we do that hurts or damages or causes us to negatively view the image of God in another person is the equivalent of the Old Testament command do not murder.

So as Christians what we read is that the unjust taking of life is wrong according to the Old Testament Ten Commandments, and Jesus doesn't negate that at all. We also read that any kind of a dehumanization is wrong according to Jesus, but the question then is how does that work within the rest of the New Testament and of course there are other people who will answer that question. But for us looking at the Ten Commandments and specifically the sixth commandment we can conclude by saying do not unjustly take life and if you're in a place where you are in the military or a situation like perhaps those who are who are caught in the war right now, do not let anger take your heart.

And if you're a place where you have to be on the front lines, be careful how you view your enemy because the issue may not be as much whether you have to pull the trigger or not but what is your heart when you have to do it.

Thank you.

Read other blogs in this War and the Christian Worldview series and learn about theology and ministry degree programs offered by GCU's College of Theology.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Grand Canyon University. Any sources cited were accurate as of the publish date.