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You shall not kill


Ray asks us: I have for some time now had a nagging curiosity in my mind. It concerns your use of the word kill in lieu of the word murder [in Shemot (Exodus) 20:13]. I would like to know your reasoning for that particular verse.

Shemot (Exodus) 20:13 / Devariym (Deuteronomy) 5:17

You shall not kill.

In the Hebrew, this is lo (לא) râtsach (רצח). The word ratsach (Strong’s H7523) is generally interpreted to mean to dash in pieces, that is, to kill (a human being), especially to murder; to put to death, to kill, to slay or to murder.

We can see here, that murder is one choice as an interpretation, and kill is another, kill being the first choice.  Many have construed this verse as “thou shalt not murder” and for many reasons, such as the fact that we, for the most part, are carnivores who eat slaughtered meat regularly.  But there are also other reasons. Let’s see what other translations say:

New American Standard Bible (NASB)

13 “You shall not murder.

New International Version (NIV)

13 You shall not murder.

English Standard Version (ESV)

13 You shall not murder.

International Standard Version (ISV)

13 “You are not to commit murder.

21st Century King James Version (KJ21)

13 Thou shalt not kill.

New King James Version (NKJV)

13 You shall not murder.

Compare this word ratsach with the Hebrew word nakah (נָכָה) (Strong's 5221) which means generally to strike (lightly or severely, literally or figuratively): to beat, to cast forth, to clap, to give wounds; but also, to kill, to slaughter, and in the noun form, a murderer.  Let’s take a look at an example where both words are used:

Devariym (Deuteronomy) 19:4

And this is the case of the slayer (ratsach), which shall flee thither, that he may live: Whoso kills (nakah) (נָכָה) his neighbor ignorantly, whom he hated not in time past;

New International Version (NIV)

4 This is the rule concerning anyone who kills (ratsach) a person and flees there for safety—anyone who kills (nakaw) a neighbor unintentionally, without malice aforethought.

English Standard Version (ESV)

4 “This is the provision for the manslayer (ratsach), who by fleeing there may save his life. If anyone kills (nakah) his neighbor unintentionally without having hated him in the past—

American Standard Version (ASV)

4 And this is the case of the manslayer (ratsach), that shall flee thither and live: whoso killeth (nakah) his neighbor unawares, and hated him not in time past;

Now, we notice a couple of things here.  First of all, neither the NIV, nor the ESV, nor the ASV use murderer for the Hebrew word ratsach, using instead a form of killer (NIV), and manslayer (ESV, ASV).  For those asking, let us ask why they used murder as the form in Shemot (Exodus) 20:15 and something different here. 

The NIV tries to draw a distinction between between the ratsach as one who kills, and the nakah as one who kills negligently.  However, a closer look at the primary translation renders a different conclusion, as the ratsach, and the nakah are the same person: that is, that the nakah who kills is a ratsach.

Now consider:

Vayiqra (Leviticus) 17:11

For the soul (nephesh) of the flesh (besar) is in the blood (dam): and I have given (natan) it to you upon the altar (mizbe’ach) to make an atonement (kaphar) for your souls (nepheshchayim): for it is the blood (dam) that makes an atonement (kaphar) for the soul (nephesh).

Vayiqra (Leviticus) 17:2-4

Speak unto El-Aharon, and unto his sons, and unto all the children of Yisra’el, and say unto them; This is the thing which YAHUAH has commanded, saying, 3 What man soever there be of the house of Yisra’el, that kills an ox, or lamb, or goat, in the camp, or that kills it out of the camp, 4 And brings it not unto the door of the Tabernacle of the assembly, to offer an offering unto YAHUAH before the Tabernacle of YAHUAH; blood shall be imputed unto that man; he has shed blood; and that man shall be cut off from among his people:

The word that is interpreted as the word kill is the Hebrew word shachat (שָׁחַט) (Strong’s 7819), which means primarily to slaughter in sacrifice. To give a couple of examples where this word shachat is used:

Bere’shiyth (Genesis) 22:10

And Avraham stretched forth his hand, and took the knife to slay (shachat) his son.

Bere’shiyth (Genesis) 37:31

And they took Joseph's coat, and killed (shachat) a kid of the goats, and dipped the coat in the blood;

Shemot (Exodus) 12:6

And ye shall keep it up until the fourteenth day of the same month: and the whole assembly of the congregation of Israel shall kill (shacat) it in the evening.

Regardless, we see there is a concern about the shedding of blood. 

So, as we consider how all of this blends together, we see that the shedding of blood is referred to as killing, and killing converts a nakah – who could be merely a beater - to a ratsach.  The NIV declares the ratsach to be anyone who kills, without distinguishing between the various levels of intent, and the word slayer or manslayer is used synonymously with the word killer (and often murderer).  So the threshold test is whether there has been the shedding of blood, not whether the act was intentional or negligent, lawful or unlawful, with a human or animal as the victim. 

Therefore, we can conclude that the edict is: you shall not kill.


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