Questions From Readers
● Might the earthquakes mentioned by Jesus Christ at Matthew 24:7 be symbolic in nature? Could they refer to political affairs such as revolutions?
In giving his prophecy of the last days, Jesus said, according to Matthew 24:7: “For nation will rise against nation and kingdom against kingdom, and there will be food shortages and earthquakes in one place after another.” Some have treated the earthquakes mentioned here as though they were symbolic in nature. They have viewed them as typical of human revolutions and political or governmental affairs that cause great difficulties among mankind. Yet, is such a conclusion warranted when the context of Jesus’ prophecy is considered? No, indeed; for if we were to treat the earthquakes as being figurative or symbolic of political or social revolutions, then we would be obliged to treat the food shortages in the same way. Further, we would have to view as symbolic the pestilences mentioned in Luke’s account of Jesus’ prophecy regarding the last days. (Luke 21:11) And what of the wars foretold? Were they symbolic? We would be compelled to say so if we placed a symbolic construction on the earthquakes of Jesus’ prophecy.
The wars experienced in this generation have certainly been anything but symbolic. Millions have perished and millions more have suffered severely from the scourge of war in this generation. Literal food shortages and ravaging diseases have plagued mankind in our day. How great, for example, is the present food problem, especially in view of the expanding world population? “The arms race and the space race could become problems of only academic interest,” maintained Norman W. Desrosier, professor of food technology at Purdue University, if mankind does not win its race to satisfy the “essential needs of the hungry of the world.” The wars, the famines and the pestilences, then, are literal. So are the earthquakes.
Under the headline “The Shifting Earth,” William L. Laurence wrote in the New York Times of March 6, 1960: “Ten or more major earthquakes shake the earth every year. The smallest of them releases about a thousand times more energy than an atomic bomb of the type that destroyed Hiroshima and Nagasaki. . . . Although destructive earthquakes are relatively few in number, small ones are common occurrences. It is estimated that in all a million shocks take place every year.” Another report said: “In 2,000 years of recorded history, earthquakes have probably taken 10,000,000 lives.” (New York Times, August 20, 1950) This would be an average of about 5,000 deaths a year. However, between 1915 and 1949, 848,450 persons met death as a result of earthquakes. The annual average of deaths due to earthquakes was not 5,000, but 24,241 for that thirty-five-year period! It is obvious, therefore, that the earthquakes of Matthew 24:7 are literal, just as literal as are the other features of the composite sign of the world’s time of the end. They are not symbolic of governmental difficulties, revolutions or other upheavals of human society.
● Why does the New World Translation at Exodus 20:13 read, “You must not murder,” when other translations use the word “kill,” as in the Authorized Version, which reads “Thou shalt not kill”?—D.T., United States.
A number of translations use the word “kill” at Exodus 20:13; among these are the Douay Version, the Catholic Confraternity, the American Standard Version and the Revised Standard Version. However, the New World Translation uses the word “murder” instead of “kill” at Exodus 20:13 because the Hebrew word here is ratsach, which means, according to Young’s Exhaustive Concordance, “to murder, pierce.” Regarding this same Hebrew word Strong’s lexicon of Hebrew words states: “ratsach, a prim. root, prop. to dash to pieces, i.e. kill (a human being), especially to murder.” To murder means: “to kill (a human being) unlawfully and with premeditated malice or willfully, deliberately, and unlawfully.”—Webster’s Third New International Dictionary.
In its various forms the word ratsach occurs some forty times in the Hebrew Scriptures. Invariably it refers to the taking of human life, although not always wrongly or unlawfully. What, then, would determine whether the word should be rendered “kill (slay)” or “murder”? It would be upon the basis of the context and also what light the rest of God’s Word sheds upon the subject. In this regard it should be noted that even the King James Version, at times, renders this Hebrew word as “murder” or “murderer.” For instance, “they slay the widow and the stranger, and murder the fatherless.” “The murderer rising with the light killeth the poor and needy.” (Ps. 94:6; Job 24:14) The Authorized Version, moreover, distinguishes between murder and accidental manslaying at Numbers 35:6-31, doing so according to the context; yet the Hebrew word involved is still ratsach: “They shall be unto you cities for refuge from the avenger; that the manslayer [ratsach] die not.” “If he smite him with an instrument of iron, so that he die, he is a murderer: the murderer [ratsach] shall surely be put to death.”—Num. 35:12, 16, AV.
It is evident, in the light of the rest of God’s Word, that Exodus 20:13 did not prohibit all killing; for the Israelites were allowed to put to death, in fact, were commanded by God to put to death murderers, idol worshipers, breakers of the sabbath, and so forth. Thus execution of a murderer would not be unlawful in God’s eyes and could not be considered “murder”; it would not be in violation of Exodus 20:13. (Gen. 9:6) Likewise, the pagan, demon-worshiping inhabitants of the land that Jehovah had promised to his people came under Jehovah’s judgment of execution for their sins, and he used his people, the Israelites, to carry out that execution. So their following this command of Jehovah’s was not a violation of his command at Exodus 20:13 and could not be considered as murder.
It is specifically unlawful killing (slaying) of a human or murder that God prohibits. With sound Scriptural reason, then, not only the New World Translation but also Robert Young’s version, James Moffatt’s version, Knox’s translation, the Soncino version and An American Translation render ratsach at Exodus 20:13 as “murder.”