“Your Word Is Truth”
“You Must Not Murder”
THE greatest physical harm that one person can inflict upon another is to take his life. Most fittingly, therefore, the Sixth Commandment of the Decalogue reads: “You must not murder.” And under the law of Moses, the penalty for willful murder was death, capital punishment. However, there was a merciful provision for those who accidentally killed a fellow human.—Ex. 20:13; Num. 35:6-34.
This law was nothing new. The Bible shows that Cain recognized that he was in danger of being killed for having murdered his brother Abel. (Gen. 4:14) Moreover, right after the Flood, Jehovah God explicitly warned against any man’s unlawfully taking the life of another. At that time God said: “Anyone shedding man’s blood, by man will his own blood be shed, for in God’s image he made man.” That law has applied to all mankind ever since, for nothing is contained in either the rest of the Hebrew Scriptures or in the Christian Greek Scriptures that would do away with that law.—Gen. 9:5, 6.
It is to be expected, then, that murder is also forbidden to Christians. Thus the apostle Paul wrote that those “full of envy, murder” and suchlike things were “deserving of death.” And the writings of the apostle John show that murder will keep a Christian from getting everlasting life, will cause him to be destroyed in the “second death.”—Rom. 1:29, 32; 1 John 3:15; Rev. 21:8.
The question has been raised as to what is legal killing and what is murder. Thus a retired American brigadier general who is now a law professor at Columbia University posed the question as to whether there is “any significant difference between killing a babe-in-arms from an aircraft, or by an infantryman’s point-blank gun fire.” He remarked that “during the Second World War many thousands of infants were burned to death in Berlin, Tokyo, Hamburg and other enemy cities, and these were certainly regarded as legitimate military operations.” He then went on to distinguish between killing of babes and other civilians by bombs dropped from planes and those killed by soldiers at gunpoint.—New York Times, January 10, 1970.
But what does God’s Word say? It does not differentiate between the two. It is true that in times past the nation of Israel served as God’s executioner in wiping out the wicked, depraved Canaanites. But what nation today can show any mandate from God to serve as his executioner? Jehovah God, the Giver of life, alone has the right to say under what conditions human life may be taken.
Of course, many persons would never think of using a gun or dropping a bomb. Might such persons nevertheless be bloodguilty before God, without, perhaps, even being aware of it? Yes. How so?
God’s law given to Moses helps us to understand the matter. True, that law code was not given to Christians; nevertheless, its viewpoint of human life is based on sound, just and reasonable principles that are ever valid.
For example, there is the question of just when a fetus might be considered a living human. While man’s laws are contradictory on this point, the law God gave to Israel made it clear that any fetus was considered a human soul. If, due to violence, a mother was deprived of her unborn child, the penalty was to be life for life. Thus abortions would be murder.—Ex. 21:22, 23.
Then again, the Mosaic law held that death resulting from criminal negligence incurred bloodguilt, and logically so. For example, if a bull gored a man to death the bull was killed. But if its owner knew that his bull was a gorer and he failed to keep it under restraint, both the bull and its owner paid with their lives. Likewise the law required that when a man built a house he build a low wall around the sides of its flat roof. If he failed to do this and a person walking on the roof fell off and was killed, the owner was charged with bloodguilt.—Ex. 21:28, 29; Deut. 22:8.
The principle involved here has a very direct bearing on the use of automobiles today. If a driver kills a man with his auto because of driving too fast, or carelessly or recklessly, or because of having been under the influence of narcotics or alcohol, then in the eyes of God he would incur bloodguilt.
Another way in which a person can unwittingly become bloodguilty is by reason of the principle of community responsibility. If one belongs to a religious organization that has shed blood in times past, or that may bless those who do shed innocent blood, then by reason of association he would share in its bloodguilt. Thus the Bible shows that the entire tribe of Benjamin was held responsible for the death of a certain woman because they refused to surrender her murderers for punishment.—Judg. 20:8-48.
That this principle applies today is clear from God’s command concerning the world empire of false religion, called Babylon the Great. At Revelation 18:4 God’s angel urges: “Get out of her, my people, if you do not want to share with her in her sins and if you do not want to receive part of her plagues.” Yes, the world empire of false religion has been guilty of many wrongs. Says God’s angel: “In her was found the blood . . . of all those who have been slaughtered on the earth.” (Rev. 18:21, 24) Those who do not want to be found guilty by God must get out of all religious organizations that do not teach and practice the commandments set out in his Word the Bible.
For Christians there is yet another way in which they may become bloodguilty, and that is by hating a fellow Christian. True, there are certain kinds of hate that are perfectly proper. For example, Jehovah’s servants are told to “hate what is bad,” and also to “abhor what is wicked.” Thus the psalmist David wrote with Jehovah God’s approval: “Do I not hate those who are intensely hating you, O Jehovah, and do I not feel a loathing for those revolting against you?” All such hate is proper, because it is based on principle, not on passion, on love of righteousness, not on selfishness. Besides, one who thus hates God’s enemies is content to wait for God to execute such enemies.—Ps. 97:10; Rom. 12:9; Ps. 139:21, 22.
But to hate a fellow Christian is akin to killing him, even as the apostle John shows: “Everyone who hates his brother is a manslayer, and you know that no manslayer has everlasting life remaining in him.” (1 John 3:15) One who hates his Christian brother actually has murder in his heart for he wishes him ill, contrary to Jehovah’s purpose to bless such ones who exercise faith in his Son. Every Christian therefore should examine his heart and root out any hate or bitterness he might have in his heart toward a fellow Christian. He should make it a matter of earnest prayer and do all within his power to overcome that feeling.
No question about it, the command not to take the life of another is not only timely and binding upon Christians today, but also far-reaching, taking in much in its scope indeed.