Devoted to the Propagation and Defense of New Testament Christianity
August 6, 1964
NUMBER 13, PAGE 5,13a

"Murder" . . . "Slay"

Jerry C. Ray

In discussing the question of whether a Christian can kill for his government the argument has been made that the Bible makes a distinction between "murder" and "slay." The argument is: The word "kill" (ratsach) in Ex. 20:13 means murder; the word "kill" (harag) in Dt. 13:9 means "slay." Thus, it is forbidden to murder (ratsach), but not wrong to slay (harag). From this it is argued that the killing done as an agent of the government is not murder, only slaying.

Even if the position were so, the argument is false. Neither the Hebrew nor the Greek makes any such distinction. Furthermore, the argument rests upon a distinction in English words that is incorrect.

There is no valid argument in a distinction in words. God gave commandment to the Israelites forbidding the taking of human life. God then gave exceptions. The solution is not in different words used but in that God can give a commandment, and then authorize exceptions to the commandment.

The general law under the Old and New Covenant is that the taking of human life is sinful. God gave exceptions under the Law of Moses. Before human life can be taken by the Christian, the exception permitting such, must be found in the Law of Christ. The question is not whether civil government is authorized to punish evildoers, but whether the Christian individually or as an agent of civil government, can take human life.

1. English Definition Makes No Such Distinction

In English "murder" and "slay" are not absolute synonyms but the distinctions made are not between permissible killing and unpermissible.

This was true even of the English of the 17th century, for the King James Version (1611 AD) translates "harag" (supposedly permissible killing) by "kill, murder, destroy, slay" and "ratsach" (supposedly forbidden killing exclusively) by various forms of the same words.

A. Definition. Kill, Slay And Murder All Agree In Meaning To Deprive Of Life Or To Put To Death.

1. "Kill is so general that it merely states the fact and does not, except in special phrases (such as 'Thou shalt not kill'), suggest human agency and the means of death or the conditions attending the putting to death." (Webster's Dictionary of Synonyms, p. 488).

2. "Slay implies killing by force or in wantoness." (Ibid.).

3. "Murder definitely implies a motive and, often, premeditation, and imputes to the act a criminal character; it is the exact word to use in reference to one person killing another either in passion or in cold blood....It is sometimes used in place of kill as more expressive, or in place of slay as more brutally direct and condemnatory, both in literal and extended use... 'The language of strategy and politics is designed... to make it appear as though wars were not fought by individuals drilled to murder one another in cold blood' (A. Huxley)." (Ibid.).

B. Conclusions And Application.

1. "Kill" is the broad term, meaning to deprive of life. It includes "murder" and "slay," which words indicate some distinctive feature of the taking of life.

2. "Slay" implies killing by force or in wantonness. According to the theory, slaying is permissible killing, but a murderer can and does kill by force and in wantonness!

3. "Murder" implies motive, and often, premeditation. The word has a quality of illegality: "imputes to the act a criminal character." But it is the exact word to denote carnal warfare. Webster's Dictionary of Synonyms even gives as an illustration a quotation from A. Huxley in which the killing of carnal warfare is called MURDER!

4. Example. A man enters the army. He is taught (or already believes) that he must fight (kill) to protect his life, family, freedom and country: hence, motive. He may be propagandized to hate the enemy, or he may have this emotion already instilled: hence, passion. He is trained to shoot accurately and to take human life efficiently. He is put into battle, he sights the enemy in his scope and presses the trigger: hence, premeditation. Or, he uses a machine gun or drops a bomb: hence, wantonness. When he took human life it was either in passion or in cold blood.

In such a case, he is a killer, a slayer, and a murderer, by definition.

5 The distinction is not in "good" or "bad" Hebrew words, but in whether God has authorized the taking of human life.

II. The Hebrew Usage Makes No Such Distinction.

The only difference between "harag" and "ratsach" is that the former is more inclusive. They are used almost interchangeably in the Old Testament.

A. Harag (supposedly permissable killing, as opposed to ratsach: murder).

1. Gesenius gives the first meaning as "kill, slay, implying ruthless violence, especially private violence." The derived meaning is given as "hence of wholesale slaughter after battle. Acts of slaughter in a revolt."

2. Harag is translated "murder" in Psa. 10:8 and Ter. 4:31.

3. Harag is used in Gen. 4:3 of Cain killing Abel; in Gen. 4:15 of the slaying of Cain that was forbidden by God. This is the same word used in Deut. 13:9 where God commanded killing; here it is forbidden. What is the difference? It is right only when God authorizes it. Where is such authorization for the Christian?

To this list can be added Gen. 4:23, 37:20; Judges 9:5; I Sam. 22:21, I Kings 18:13; II Chron. 21:4.

B. Ratsach (supposedly always wrong: "murder").

1. It is argued that "ratsach" refers only to premeditated private killing, or murder. According to Gesenius, in the Pi'el or intensive form of the word this is true, but in the Kal form it is not true. The prohibition in Ex. 20:13 and Dt. 5:17 is expressed in the Kal form. Gesenius shows that the Kal form is used for premeditated murder 15 times, for accidental killing 21 times, and for killing in justice by the divinely and legally appointed avenger of blood, twice.

2. Throughout Numbers 35 the word ratsach is used to refer to (1) the murderer, (2) the accidental-slayer, and (3) the legal avenger.

For example, Numbers 35:27: "the avenger of blood shall slay (ratsach) the manslayer (ratsach)."

If God had intended to prohibit premeditated and private murder but at 'the same time imply a condoning of other forms of killing, this would have been the place to use the Pi'el form of that word and settled the matter once and for all. But the Kal form is used which means the taking of human life regardless of motive.

C. Every word translated "slay" or "kill" and applied to killing in warfare is likewise applied to murder. The Old Testament does not make a distinction between killing in war and other killing by the use of different words.

D. Only two words are specifically applied by the lexicons to killing in war: Harag and Muth. Why didn't God use one of these in Ex. 20:13, so there would be no question about killing in war? Ratsach is the only one of ten Hebrew words translated "kill" that applies only to the taking of human life. For example, if Harag had been used, it would have forbidden the killing of animals for food.

III. The Greek Usage Makes No Such Distinction.

The New Testament, likewise, makes no such assumed distinction between murder and slay.

A. Every word in the Greek New Testament that is translated "kill, murder. slay" and is used in reference to the taking of human life, is used in a passage where it can be clearly seen that such is sinful.

1. Anaireo, Lk. 22:2, Mt. 2:16.

2. Apokteino, Mt. 10:28, Mt. 22:6 3. Diacheirizomai, Acts 26:21, Acts 5:30.

4. Sphatto, Rev. 6:4, I John 3:12, Rev. 5:9. Ratasphatto, a compound of this word, appears once in the New Testament, Lk, 19:27.

5. Phoneuo, Mt. 5:21, Mt. 19:18.

6. Phonos, Mt. 15:19, Acts 9:1, Heb. 11:37.

7. Phoneus, Rev. 21:8.

8. Thanatoo, Rom. 8:36 9. Anthropoktonos, I John 3:15.

10. Sikarios, Acts 21:38.

B. In the King James Version Matthew 19:18 reads, "Thou shalt do no murder." Since a similar quotation from the same Old Testament passage. Ex. 20:13, in Matthew 5:21 reads, "Thou shalt not kill" it has been argued that this shows that all killing is not murder--that the New Testament makes a distinction.

1. It seems to me the argument could be reversed just as effectively and say this proves that all killing is murder, and that the words are interchangeable.

2. The truth is the same word is used in both passages — phoneuo. See the list above. The American Standard Version (1901 A.D.) translates it "kill" instead of "murder". There is no such distinction of permissible and forbidden killing in the New Testament Greek.

Irving, Texas