God recorded the Sixth Commandment in Exodus 20:13: “You shall not murder.” God values human life highly, and He wants us to value and choose life as well.
God is the giver of life. He breathed into the first man the breath of life (Genesis 2:7), and His plan is to give every human being a chance at real life—eternal life as His sons and daughters in His Kingdom.
Jesus Christ said, “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life” (John 3:16). He desires for everyone to repent and have salvation—eternal life (1 Timothy 2:4; 2 Peter 3:9). This physical life is a training ground for that future life.
God values life highly. He tells us to choose life: “I call heaven and earth as witnesses today against you, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and cursing; therefore choose life, that both you and your descendants may live” (Deuteronomy 30:19).
God showed the value of human life by requiring capital punishment for the murder of another person (Exodus 21:12, 14). Accidental killing, of course, was treated differently (Exodus 21:13; Numbers 35:11).
“Thou shalt not kill” meaning
The King James Version, the most influential English version of the Bible for centuries, translated the Sixth Commandment as “thou shalt not kill” (Exodus 20:13). Other older translations use the word kill as well. But most modern Bible versions use the word murder instead.
In his 1982 book New International Encyclopedia of Bible Difficulties, biblical scholar Gleason L. Archer explained the problem with the translation “kill.”
“Much confusion has arisen from the misleading translation of Exodus 20:13 that occurs in most English versions [before that time]. The Hebrew original uses a specific word for murder (rasah) in this sixth commandment and should be rendered ‘You shall not murder’ (NASB).
“This is no prohibition against capital punishment for capital crimes, since it is not a general term for the taking of life, such as our English word ‘kill’ implies. Exodus 21:12, right in the very next chapter, reads: ‘He that smiteth a man, so that he die, shall be surely put to death.’ This amounts to a specific divine command to punish murder with capital punishment, in keeping with Genesis 9:6: ‘Whoever sheds man’s blood, by man his blood shall be shed, for in the image of God He made man’ (NASB).”
That’s why we use the translation, “You shall not murder” (New King James Version, New International Version, English Standard Version, World English Bible, etc.).
The spiritual intent of the Sixth Commandment
Jesus Christ expounded on the Sixth Commandment to emphasize its spiritual intent. He told us not to become angry without a cause or to allow anger to cause us to do violence or even abuse another person verbally:
“You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder, and whoever murders will be in danger of the judgment.’ But I say to you that whoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment. And whoever says to his brother, ‘Raca!’ [“meaning empty head,” The Nelson Study Bible note] shall be in danger of the council. But whoever says, ‘You fool!’ shall be in danger of hell fire” (Matthew 5:21-22).
There is righteous anger (God gets angry at sin, as Hebrews 3:17 shows), but it must be controlled as God tempers His anger with patience and mercy. This is shown in Joel 2:13, where Joel encourages us to throw ourselves on God’s mercy: “So rend your heart, and not your garments; return to the LORD your God, for He is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and of great kindness; and He relents from doing harm.”
See more about God’s righteous anger in our articles “Why Is God Angry With America?” and “Wrath of God.” And study how the Bible says we should respond in our free booklet Change Your Life!
Hate is murder
The Bible shows that hate is the attitude of murder. The apostle John wrote: “Whoever hates his brother is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life abiding in him” (1 John 3:15).
The Bible also shows the dangers of our words and that we can murder with our tongues.The Bible also shows the dangers of our words and that we can murder with our tongues (Proverbs 18:21).
“Even so the tongue is a little member and boasts great things. See how great a forest a little fire kindles! And the tongue is a fire, a world of iniquity. The tongue is so set among our members that it defiles the whole body, and sets on fire the course of nature; and it is set on fire by hell. For every kind of beast and bird, of reptile and creature of the sea, is tamed and has been tamed by mankind. But no man can tame the tongue. It is an unruly evil, full of deadly poison” (James 3:5-8).
We must replace hate—the attitude of murder—with love, shown by action: “We know that we have passed from death to life, because we love the brethren. He who does not love his brother abides in death. … But whoever has this world’s goods, and sees his brother in need, and shuts up his heart from him, how does the love of God abide in him? My little children, let us not love in word or in tongue, but in deed and in truth” (1 John 3:14, 17-18).
Love your enemies
We are not to hate even an enemy, but to love, bless, do good and pray for them.
As Jesus Christ taught in the Sermon on the Mount, “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven; for He makes His sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust” (Matthew 5:43-45).
The first murder
The attitude of hate and murder goes back before human beings existed. Jesus said to the people of His day who would eventually call for His death: “You are of your father the devil, and the desires of your father you want to do. He was a murderer from the beginning, and does not stand in the truth, because there is no truth in him” (John 8:44).
The devil has infected humans with this attitude of hate and murder from the beginning when Cain jealously killed his brother, committing the first murder (Genesis 4:3-8).
The apostle John expands on Satan’s influence and Cain’s motivation in 1 John 3:10-12:
“In this the children of God and the children of the devil are manifest: Whoever does not practice righteousness is not of God, nor is he who does not love his brother. For this is the message that you have heard from the beginning, that we should love one another, not as Cain who was of the wicked one and murdered his brother. And why did he murder him? Because his works were evil and his brother’s righteous.”
We have a number of helpful resources about applying the Sixth Commandment today by overcoming jealousy, hate and anger. These include “How to Overcome Jealousy,” “A Foothold for the Devil” and related articles and blog posts.
For further study of the other commandments, read the article “What Are the 10 Commandments?”