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The Sixth Word

As we have been looking at the Ten Commandments, one thing that has been true of all of them is that the surface level/cultural understanding of them leaves a lot to be desired. There is a depth and connection in the commands of God that are meant to draw us closer to God that is missed when we treat them as stand-alone, simple, one-dimensional commands or statements. What we need to do with the commandments, like all the rest of scripture, is look for what they are teaching us about the nature of God and how he has revealed himself. One of the common misconceptions about the bible is that it is a book of rules that we must follow. To some extent, this is true, but it is missing the main point. The scripture reveals the Lord and his work in creation and redemption. So as we look at the commandments and any other part of scripture, we need to ask ourselves, what does this teach me about who God is? Only then can we obey the things of scripture the way they are intended.

Question #105

The sixth commandment is probably one of the most well-known and yet one of the most misunderstood. Part of that comes from the translations that we usually learn the commandments from. The Authorized translation, commonly referred to as the King James Version, has been the main translation in English for most of the last 300 years, so it is not surprising to find that much of the cultural understanding of things like the Ten Commandments comes from this translation. While the King James is a good translation, it is not perfect since there is no such thing as a perfect translation. One of the places that this becomes apparent is in the sixth commandment. It translates Exodus 20:13 as "Thou shalt not kill." But the word used in the Hebrew does not pertain to all killing, but to murder. This is why newer translations correct this by saying, "You shall not murder" (ESV). To better understand what the command is communicating, we will look at what the Heidelberg Catechism says is required by the commandment.

I am not to dishonour, hate, injure, or kill my neighbour by thoughts, words, or gestures, and much less by deeds, whether personally or through another;[1] rather, I am to put away all desire of revenge.[2] Moreover, I am not to harm or recklessly endanger myself.[3] Therefore, also, the government bears the sword to prevent murder.[4]

To start with, the Catechism recognizes that in order to understand the commandment, it has to be read in light of Jesus's words in Matthew chapter 5. There Jesus tells us that it is not just the act of killing, or more accurately murder, that is in view, but the command has in view how we treat our fellow image-bearers in everything we do. This includes our emotions, thoughts, words, gestures, and actions.

A Question of Authority

One critique that has been leveled at the Bible is the seeming contradiction that comes when we read the command as do not kill. This is because in other places in scripture, particularly in the books of the law, there are other commands that tell the people to kill certain individuals and for certain reasons. For example, in Genesis 9:6 it says, “Whoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed, for God made man in his own image." This critique fails in two main areas. The first is the distinction between murder and killing. Murder is the unlawful killing of another human being. The scripture forbids murder but actually commands killing in certain circumstances. The second area where the critique fails is in understanding why murder is wrong. Another closely related critique is to challenge God with being inconsistent or violating his own laws. The issue with both these things is the issue of authority. Man cannot murder because he does not have the authority to do so. Man is not authorized to kill at all, apart from specific circumstances. This is because only God has that authority. In essence, we as created beings are granted authority by God, who has all authority, in specific areas. These areas include caring for the family we have been given and the world around us. But all of creation is God's to do with as he wills. As Deuteronomy 32:39 says, “ ‘See now that I, even I, am he, and there is no god beside me; I kill and I make alive; I wound and I heal; and there is none that can deliver out of my hand." So we are commanded not to murder because vengeance belongs to the Lord. Because creation belongs to the Lord, and he decides what his creatures are allowed to do or not to do.


When we talked about the First Commandment, we talked about how everything that follows after it, is essentially an outworking of the first. We are not to have other Gods besides the Lord. We are not allowed to make anything, including ourselves, out to be his equal. This is what happens when someone commits murder. By their actions, they have taken something that belongs to God alone. This is at the heart of all sin. Doing things for man rather than God. All authority in heaven above and in the earth below belongs to the Lord. We are his image-bearers, his special representatives. We are not him. We do not have the right or the authority to attempt the things that belong to God alone and that God has not granted to us. God has granted humanity the authority to kill in certain circumstances, such as protection and the administration of the law. This is why the Catechism talks about the government bearing the sword. They do not have this authority from themselves or even from the people they govern, but it is from God to act according to his will and his purpose. So next time you think about the Sixth Commandment, remember that the issue is one of authority. God has not granted that authority to man.

Soli Deo Gloria

[1] Gen. 9:6; Lev. 19:17, 18; Matt. 5:21, 22; 26:52. [2] Prov. 25:21, 22; Matt. 18:35; Rom. 12:19; Eph. 4:26. [3] Matt. 4:7; 26:52; Rom. 13:11-14. [4] Gen. 9:6; Ex. 21:14; Rom. 13:4.

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