You Shall Not Murder: Bible Lesson and Life Application

by Dr. Michael L. Williams · Print Print · Email Email

Reports of murder are a daily occurrence no matter where you live. Murder is rare in some locations while large numbers of murders occur in other locations. In some communities murderers are put to death, while other communities vary the punishment based on who was murdered or what the perceived motive was of the murderer. Likewise, some people think abortion is murder while others see no problem with it. No matter where one stands, a Bible lesson and life application study of murder is needed to know why God commanded us not to murder.

What is murder? 

The word murder is commonly defined as (1): Noun: “the unlawful premeditated killing of one human being by another.” Verb: “kill (someone) unlawfully and with premeditation.” We see two distinctive points from this common definition. First, it is a premeditated killing of one human being by another. Second, it is unlawful. 

What is the difference between murder and killing? 

The word kill is commonly defined as (2): Noun: an act of killing, especially of one animal by another. Verb: cause the death of (a person, animal, or other living thing). When you compare murder and killing, you see that killing does not include the points of premeditated murder of a human that is unlawful. Since humans have historically passed laws legalizing murder in some cases, the standard of lawfulness must be God’s Word (Acts 4:13-21)

You Shall Not Murder

What does God say about murder?

The sixth commandment reads like this:

“Thou shalt not kill. (Exodus 20:13)”.

Some people have used this verse to forbid killing of any kind, including animals for food or the death penalty. However, if this were the case, then God would be contradicting Himself when he commanded to kill animals for sacrifices or to eat (Genesis 9:1-7; Deuteronomy 12:13-18; Luke 15:23; Acts 10:9-15).

The word kill in this verse is the Hebrew word rasah. It is used 47 times in the Old Testament with only five times being used as kill. The word means to properly dash in pieces a human being, slay, or murder (3). Jesus quoted this verse in Matthew 5:21 in the context of murder. The Greek word used by Jesus is the Greek word phoneue from the root phoneus, which means to be a murderer, do murder, or slay (4). It is clear from these references that the context of the use of the word kill is murder, which refers to a human that commits premeditated, unlawful murder of another human being.

What does God say about killing in defense?

Exodus 22:2 God says: “If a thief be found breaking up, and be smitten that he die, there shall no blood be shed for him.” Here we see a case where someone is killed in the act of committing a crime. Likewise, Romans 13:1-5 tells us that God has ordained powers and ministers to defend us against those intent on doing us harm. This is a reference to military and law enforcement authorities.

Some point to Romans 12:17:21 as a reasoning against self-defense. However, reading these verses in context reveals that it is talking about retribution or vengeance (Romans 12:17-18). It makes no presumption that a law has been broken. It says that when someone does something evil to you, you should try to live peaceably with them and overcome their evil with good deeds toward them. 

Is the death penalty murder?

Despite all the opinions, God did make a provision for the death penalty with very strict standards. Without exploring all the allowances for the death penalty, we find that in the case of murder there had to be two or three witnesses (Numbers 35:30; Deuteronomy 17:6). Likewise, as we just learned in Romans 13:1-5, it had to be carried out by those ordained by God. 

What is the Spiritual perspective of murder?

We saw in Matthew 5:21 that Jesus quoted Exodus 20:13. However, He used this passage in the context of anger. Looking at Matthew 5:21-24 we find that Jesus was talking about unrighteous anger. More specifically, in Matthew 5:22 He said the following:

“But I say unto you, That whosoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment: and whosoever shall say to his brother, Raca, shall be in danger of the council: but whosoever shall say, Thou fool, shall be in danger of hell fire.”

The important point to see in this verse is the phrase “whosoever is angry with his brother without a cause…” Many modern versions remove the words “without a cause,” which would then mean that Jesus was a sinner in Mark 3:5 when He healed a man on the Sabbath. Jesus was angry with the local religious leaders who cared more about the Sabbath than the man’s healing.

This speaks to a Spiritual perspective that connects sin to death (Romans 6:23). In this case, Jesus referred to sinful anger in Matthew 5:22. However, in James 1:13-16 we find that our lusts (1 John 2:15-16) lead us to sin, which leads to death and destruction. For the non-believer, death in Hell (Romans 6:23). For the believer, death of marriages, relationships with people, death of local churches, death of careers, ministries, etcetera.

The point is that from a Spiritual perspective, when we sin, we commit Spiritual murder. This is what God meant when He told Adam in Genesis 2:17 that if he ate from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil that he would die. Adam and his wife did not physically drop to the ground dead the moment they ate the forbidden fruit (Genesis 3:6-7). However, they were Spiritually murdered by Satan.

This is why Jesus referred to Satan as a murderer from the beginning in John 8:44. Satan premeditated and carried out the physical and Spiritual death of Adam and Eve in direct violation of God’s law. While the physical murder did not take place immediately, the Spiritual murder was instantaneous. Praise God that despite the fact that Satan was involved in our murder, God provided a way for use to be physically and Spiritually restored through His (Jesus’) death upon the cross to pay for our sins.           


God commanded us not to murder in the sixth commandment. This is because murder is the premeditated killing of another human being in violation of God’s law. Since it is based on God’s law, it has both literal and Spiritual application and consequences. The physical consequences are quite visible, but the Spiritual consequences require a Savior that is able to give us life and give it to us abundantly to the praise of His glory.

Read this article, also by Dr. Mike: What Does the Bible Say About Grief?

Resources – Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, King James Version. (1) Google. (2014). “Murder”. Retrieved from Google: https: //www. google. com/?gws_ rd=ssl#q=murder+definition. (2) Google. (2014). “Murder”. Retrieved from Google: https://www. google. com/?gws_rd=ssl#q=kill+definition. (3) Strong, James, (2014). “Kill”. Strong’s number H7523. Strong’s Talking Greek & Hebrew Dictionary. (4) Strong, James, (2014). “Kill”. Strong’s number G5407. Strong’s Talking Greek & Hebrew Dictionary.

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