Kill – definition

List of words in the glossaryNote that this study includes and compares definitions for both “kill” and “murder.” A very major question in understanding the character of God is whether or not God personally kills anyone.

Traditional Legal Model – To kill as in “Thou shalt not kill” (The sixth commandment, Exo 20:13) is to commit what we would call murder, the malicious and unjustified taking of another life. It does not include killing in self-defense, times of war or in judicial acts.

 Biblical Healing Model – To kill is to take the life of another human under any circumstances or for any reason.

Webster’s 1828 Dictionary

Kill (verb)

 To deprive of life, animal or vegetable, in any manner or by any means. …

 Murder (noun)

 The act of unlawfully killing a human being with premeditated malice, by a person of sound mind. To constitute murder in law, the person killing another must be of sound mind or in possession of his reason, and the act must be done with malice prepense, aforethought or premeditated; but malice may be implied, as well as express.

 Modern Dictionary Definition

Kill (verb)

  1. to deprive of life in any manner; cause the death of; slay.

Murder (verb)

  1. Law. to kill by an act constituting murder.

Murder (noun)

  1. Law. the killing of another human being under conditions specifically covered in law. In the U.S., special statutory definitions include murder committed with malice aforethought, characterized by deliberation or premeditation or occurring during the commission of another serious crime, as robbery or arson (first-degree murder), and murder by intent but without deliberation or premeditation (second-degree murder).

What is prohibited by the sixth commandment?

“Thou shalt not kill.” (Exo 20:13)

The word “kill” is from the Hebrew word “ratsach” (Strong’s H7523) which is translated as both kill (5 times) and murder (3 times). Many other versions translate it as “murder” and it is often argued that the commandment prohibits murder but not killing in many other situations such as self-defense, military duty or execution for a capital offence. Therefore, the suggestion is that only malicious, premeditated taking of life is prohibited. However, the Bible uses the term “ratsach” to refer to killing other than what we would call pre-meditated murder:

“That the slayer (ratsach) might flee thither, which should kill his neighbour unawares, and hated him not in times past; and that fleeing unto one of these cities he might live:” (Deut 4:42) (See also Num 35:22-25)

In that verse, the act was not what we would call murder (“unawares”) yet it uses “ratsach.”

Many, believing the sixth commandment only prohibits murder and that, in many situations, it is not a crime to kill another, say that the Hebrew word for that is “muwth” (Strong’s H4191). However, there are examples of “muwth” being used in cases of premeditated, unjustified killing:

“The wicked watcheth the righteous, and seeketh to slay (muwth, H4191) him.”  Psalm 37:32

“But Jonathan Saul’s son delighted much in David: and Jonathan told David, saying, Saul my father seeketh to kill thee: …” (1 Sam 19:2)

There are a number of other cases in which the word “muwth” is used in cases of murder or assassination. So, clearly, “muwth” can mean murder and “ratsach” can mean even accidental killings. This proves false the claim that “muwth” is used only for righteous execution and “ratsach” for murder.

Now consider this verse:

“Whoso killeth any person, the murderer (ratsach) shall be put to death (ratsach) by the mouth of witnesses: but one witness shall not testify against any person to cause him to die.” (Num 35:30)

God is saying that anyone who kills (no reason or motive specified) any person (most people would consider that to be an act of murder because the word “ratsach” is used) should be (by the command of God) “put to death” (or – to be consistent, since this uses the same term ratsach, murdered). Does that make sense?

A problem is that, while the commandment says “thou shalt not kill,” God often commanded the Israelites to kill their enemies. There are various reasons in different cases, an important one being that of God issuing permissive commands – allowing man to do what he wants to even though it is not God’s first choice.

A larger problem in the minds of many is cases where it seems (and even literally reads) that God Himself personally and directly killed humans. Many of these are cases in which God is said to do that which He merely allows or permits.

Related topics:

The Ten Commandments are Ten Promises
Killing in the Old Testament – see specific incidents under Biblical Events

Planned future pages:

Is God the Author of Death?
Death Sentence an Opportunity for Mercy
What Jesus Said About Killing

Go to The Character of God and the Gospel Glossary