Killing in the Bible in Light of God’s Command, “Thou Shall Not Kill”

  • A common challenge from critics of Christianity is that the Bible is inconsistent when God says, “Thou shall not kill”, but then we find God’s people involved in killings and warfare throughout its pages. In reply…
  • It’s important to first note that “Thou shall not kill” (Exodus 20:13) is not the most accurate translation of the Hebrew text. Most contemporary English translations use the more appropriate word, “murder”. A proper translation here is crucial.
  • Throughout the Bible God makes a distinction between killing and murder. Murder is the wrongful taking of another human life, which God condemns universally (Genesis 9:5-6). Killing, however, is biblically justifiable in cases of capital punishment (Exodus 21:12-14) and in certain instances of warfare. In fact, Paul reminds us that governments have been ordained by God and possess the power to bear the sword to punish wrongdoers (Romans 13).
  • Many of the references to God’s people killing and engaging in warfare in the Old Testament are in the context of God establishing and preserving the nation of Israel within the Promised Land.
  • As the Creator and sustainer of all, God directs the affairs of humanity to bring about his will (Acts 17:24-26); and at times throughout history this has involved killing and warfare.
  • The question then becomes, how is the God-ordained killing and warfare found in the Bible consistent with God’s grace and love? We’ll address this question in next week’s Fast Facts.

For more helpful answers to challenging skeptics’ questions, please see the Apologetics Study Bible for Students, available in our online store.