Thou Shall Not Kill: Does God Violate His Own Commandment?
by Rich Deem


The sixth commandment is "Thou shalt not kill."1 Atheists claim that God violated His own commandment in ordering the destruction of entire cities, just to allow the Jews to have a homeland in the Middle East. The Bible confirms that God ordered the killing of thousands of people. Isn't this an open and shut case for the hypocrisy of the God of the Bible?

Is all killing the same?

One thing you have to love about atheists is their extreme appreciation for the King James Version (KJV) translation. The KJV was translated in the early 17th century using an archaic form of modern English. In the last 400 years, the English language has changed significantly. Unfortunately, the vast majority of those who read the KJV (both believers and unbelievers) are unqualified to know what the text means in many instances because of word meaning changes. In attempting to demonstrate the contradiction of God's commands to Israel and the sixth commandment, atheist cite the KJV translation, "Thou shalt not kill."

However, like English, Hebrew, the language in which most of the Old Testament was written, uses different words for intentional vs. unintentional killing. The verse translated "Thou shalt not kill" in the KJV translation, is translated "You shall not murder"2 in modern translations - because these translations represents the real meaning of the Hebrew text. The Bible in Basic English translates the phrase, "Do not put anyone to death without cause."2 The Hebrew word used here is ratsach,3 which nearly always refers to intentional killing without cause (unless indicated otherwise by context). Hebrew law recognized accidental killing as not punishable. In fact, specific cities were designated as "cities of refuge," so that an unintentional killer could flee to escape retribution.4 The Hebrew word for "kill" in this instance is not ratsach, but nakah, which can refer to either premeditated or unintentional killing, depending upon context.5 Other Hebrew words also can refer to killing.6-8 The punishment for murder was the death sentence.9 However, to be convicted, there needed to be at least two eyewitnesses.10 The Bible also prescribes that people have a right to defend themselves against attack and use deadly force if necessary.11

Is God's killing justified?

To answer the question whether God breaks His own commandments, we need to determine if God committed murder (i.e., killed people without cause). The Bible is quite clear that God has killed people directly (the most prominent example being the flood) and indirectly (ordered peoples to be killed). If God ordered or participated in the killing of innocent people, then He would be guilty of murder. Let's look at two of the most prominent examples.

The flood

According to the Bible, God killed every human except Noah, his wife, his sons, and their wives in the flood. Were any of these people killed unjustly? The Bible says specifically that all people (except Noah and his family) had become corrupted.12 Not only had all people become corrupted, but they were continually plotting evil!13 Is it possible that an entire culture can become corrupted? You bet! Recent history proves the point rather well. When the Nazis took over Germany before WWII, opposition was crushed and removed. When they began their purging of the undesirables (e.g., the Jews), virtually the entire society went along with the plan. Further examples are given on another page. So, the Bible indicates that no innocent people were killed in the flood.

God orders killing

What about when God ordered Joshua and his people to kill every man, woman and child in Canaan?14 What crime could be so great that entire populations of cities were designated for destruction? God told Moses that the nations that the Hebrew were replacing were wicked.15 How "wicked" were these people? The text tells us that they were burning their own sons and daughters in sacrifices to their gods.16 So we see that these people were not really innocent. For these reasons (and others17), God ordered the destruction of the peoples whom the Israelites dispossessed.

What about the children and other "innocents"

Surely God could have spared the children! People tend to assume that children are innocent, even if their parents are doing bad things. The assumption is unfounded. For example, Palestinian Muslim children are officially taught in grammar school to hate their Jewish neighbors.18 They are so well indoctrinated that some of them give up their lives in suicide bombings as children.19 Corruption literally does breed corruption, which is why God did not want the Hebrews tainted by the other corrupt cultures of the Middle East.

Surely there must have been other innocent adults in those cities who were destroyed with the wicked! There actually is an example of a time when God was asked if He would destroy the innocent along with the wicked. Prior to destroying Sodom and Gomorrah, Abraham asked God if He would destroy the righteous along with the wicked.20 God replied that He would spare the entire city for 50 righteous people.21 Abraham kept reducing the possible number of righteous people, asking God if He would destroy the entire city along with those number of righteous people.22 God's reply in each case was that He would not destroy the righteous along with the wicked. The lowest number Abraham asked about was ten righteous people, although the answer would likely be the same with as few as one righteous individual. How do we know this? God sent two angels to warn the four righteous people in Sodom to flee before He destroyed the city.23 It is quite convenient that such details are usually left out of atheistic sites complaining about the "evil" perpetrated by God. In fact, God saved certain people from being killed in cities such as Jericho.24

Conclusion Top of page

Is God a Moral Monster?The commandment "Thou shalt not kill" is really not as general as the King James version would indicate. The commandment actually refers to premeditated, unjustified killing - murder. Although God ordered the extermination of entire cities, He did so in righteous judgment on a people whose corruption had led to extreme wickedness, including child sacrifice. Did God destroy the righteous along with the wicked? In an exchange with Abraham, God indicated that He would spare the wicked to save the righteous. He demonstrated this principle by saving righteous people from Sodom and Jericho prior to their destruction. The charge that God indiscriminately murdered people does not hold to to critical evaluation of the biblical texts.

References Top of page

  1. Thou shalt not kill. (Deuteronomy 5:17, KJV)
  2. Modern translations:
    • You shall not murder. (Deuteronomy 5:17, NIV)
    • You shall not murder. (Deuteronomy 5:17, NASB)
    • Do not put anyone to death without cause. (Deuteronomy 5:17, BBE)
    • Do not murder. (Deuteronomy 5:17, CEV)
    • "'You shall not murder. (Deuteronomy 5:17 ESV)
    • "'Do not commit murder. (Deuteronomy 5:17 GNB)
    • "Never murder. (Deuteronomy 5:17 GW)
    • "You shall not murder. (Deuteronomy 5:17 HNV)
    • No murder. (Deuteronomy 5:17 MSG)
    • "You shall not murder. (Deuteronomy 5:17 WEB)
    • 'Thou dost not murder. (Deuteronomy 5:17 YLT)
  3. Brown-Driver-Briggs' Hebrew Definitions:
    râtsach ratsach (Strong's H7523) (Strong's H7523)
    1. to murder, slay, kill
      1. (Qal) to murder, slay
        1. premeditated
        2. accidental
        3. as avenger
        4. slayer (intentional) (participle)
      2. (Niphal) to be slain
      3. (Piel)
        1. to murder, assassinate
        2. murderer, assassin (participle) (substantive)
      4. (Pual) to be killed
    Part of Speech: verb
    A Related Word by BDB/Strong’s Number: a primitive root
    Same Word by TWOT Number: 220
  4. then you shall select for yourselves cities to be your cities of refuge, that the manslayer who has killed [nakah] any person unintentionally may flee there. (Numbers 35:11)
  5. Brown-Driver-Briggs' Hebrew Definitions:
    nâkâh nakah (Strong's H5221) (Strong's H5221)
    1. to strike, smite, hit, beat, slay, kill
      1. (Niphal) to be stricken or smitten
      2. (Pual) to be stricken or smitten
      3. (Hiphil)
        1. to smite, strike, beat, scourge, clap, applaud, give a thrust
        2. to smite, kill, slay (man or beast)
        3. to smite, attack, attack and destroy, conquer, subjugate, ravage
        4. to smite, chastise, send judgment upon, punish, destroy
      4. (Hophal) to be smitten
        1. to receive a blow
        2. to be wounded
        3. to be beaten
        4. to be (fatally) smitten, be killed, be slain
        5. to be attacked and captured
        6. to be smitten (with disease)
        7. to be blighted (of plants)
      Part of Speech: verb
      A Related Word by BDB/Strong’s Number: a primitive root
      Same Word by TWOT Number: 1364
  6. Brown-Driver-Briggs' Hebrew Definitions:
    hârag harag (Strong's H2026) (Strong's H2026)
    1. to kill, slay, murder, destroy, murderer, slayer, out of hand
      1. (Qal)
        1. to kill, slay
        2. to destroy, ruin
      2. (Niphal) to be killed
      3. (Pual) to be killed, be slain
    Part of Speech: verb
    A Related Word by BDB/Strong’s Number: a primitive root
    Same Word by TWOT Number: 514
  7. Brown-Driver-Briggs' Hebrew Definitions:
    shâchaṭ shachat (Strong's H7819) (Strong's H7819)
    1. to kill, slaughter, beat (verb)
      1. (Qal)
        1. to slaughter
          1. beast for food
          2. sacrifice
          3. person in human sacrifice
          4. beaten, hammered (of shekels)
      2. (Niphal) to be slaughtered, be slain (of food or sacrifice)
    2. (BDB) slaughtering (noun feminine)
      1. word doubtful
    Part of Speech: see above in Definition
    A Related Word by BDB/Strong’s Number: a primitive root
    Same Word by TWOT Number: 2362
  8. Brown-Driver-Briggs' Hebrew Definitions:
    mûth muth (Strong's H4191) (Strong's H4191)
    1. to die, kill, have one executed
      1. (Qal)
        1. to die
        2. to die (as penalty), be put to death
        3. to die, perish (of a nation)
        4. to die prematurely (by neglect of wise moral conduct)
      2. (Polel) to kill, put to death, dispatch
      3. (Hiphil) to kill, put to death
      4. (Hophal)
        1. to be killed, be put to death
          1. to die prematurely
    Part of Speech: verb
    A Related Word by BDB/Strong’s Number: a primitive root
    Same Word by TWOT Number: 1169
  9. 'But if he struck him down with an iron object, so that he died, he is a murderer; the murderer shall surely be put to death. (Numbers 35:16)
    'If he struck him down with a stone in the hand, by which he will die, and as a result he died, he is a murderer; the murderer shall surely be put to death. (Numbers 35:17)
    'Or if he struck him with a wooden object in the hand, by which he might die, and as a result he died, he is a murderer; the murderer shall surely be put to death. (Numbers 35:18)
    'The blood avenger himself shall put the murderer to death; he shall put him to death when he meets him. (Numbers 35:19)
    'If he pushed him of hatred, or threw something at him lying in wait and as a result he died, (Numbers 35:20)
    or if he struck him down with his hand in enmity, and as a result he died, the one who struck him shall surely be put to death, he is a murderer; the blood avenger shall put the murderer to death when he meets him. (Numbers 35:21)
  10. "On the evidence of two witnesses or three witnesses, he who is to die shall be put to death; he shall not be put to death on the evidence of one witness. (Deuteronomy 17:6)
    "A single witness shall not rise up against a man on account of any iniquity or any sin which he has committed; on the evidence of two or three witnesses a matter shall be confirmed. (Deuteronomy 19:15)
  11. When King Ahasuerus (King of Persia) was tricked into signing a decree by the evil Haman to allow for the killing of all Jews in Persia, he reversed the decree, allowing the Jews to defend themselves against such attacks:
    He wrote in the name of King Ahasuerus, and sealed it with the king's signet ring, and sent letters by couriers on horses, riding on steeds sired by the royal stud. In them the king granted the Jews who were in each and every city the right to assemble and to defend their lives, to destroy, to kill and to annihilate the entire army of any people or province which might attack them, including children and women, and to plunder their spoil, (Esther 8:10-11)
  12. Then the LORD saw that the wickedness of man was great on the earth, and that every intent of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually. (Genesis 6:5)
  13. Now the earth was corrupt in the sight of God, and the earth was filled with violence. God looked on the earth, and behold, it was corrupt; for all flesh had corrupted their way upon the earth. (Genesis 6:11-12)
  14. Thus Joshua struck all the land, the hill country and the Negev and the lowland and the slopes and all their kings. He left no survivor, but he utterly destroyed all who breathed, just as the LORD, the God of Israel, had commanded. (Joshua 10:40)
  15. "It is not for your righteousness or for the uprightness of your heart that you are going to possess their land, but it is because of the wickedness of these nations that the LORD your God is driving them out before you, in order to confirm the oath which the LORD swore to your fathers, to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. (Deuteronomy 9:5)
  16. "You shall not behave thus toward the LORD your God, for every abominable act which the LORD hates they have done for their gods; for they even burn their sons and daughters in the fire to their gods. (Deuteronomy 12:31)
    And the Avvites made Nibhaz and Tartak; and the Sepharvites burned their children in the fire to Adrammelech and Anammelech the gods of Sepharvaim. (2 Kings 17:31)
  17. "When the LORD your God cuts off before you the nations which you are going in to dispossess, and you dispossess them and dwell in their land, beware that you are not ensnared to follow them, after they are destroyed before you, and that you do not inquire after their gods, saying, 'How do these nations serve their gods, that I also may do likewise?' (Deuteronomy 12:29-30)
  18. Are Palestinian Leaders Preaching Nazi-like Hatred of Jews?
    Puppet masters twist young minds to hate
  19. Why Palestinian children die
    Occupied Territories: Stop Use of Children in Suicide Bombings
  20. Abraham came near and said, "Will You indeed sweep away the righteous with the wicked? (Genesis 18:23)
  21. So the LORD said, "If I find in Sodom fifty righteous within the city, then I will spare the whole place on their account." (Genesis 18:26)
  22. "Suppose the fifty righteous are lacking five, will You destroy the whole city because of five?" And He said, "I will not destroy it if I find forty-five there." (Genesis 18:28)
    He spoke to Him yet again and said, "Suppose forty are found there?" And He said, "I will not do it on account of the forty." (Genesis 18:29)
    Then he said, "Oh may the Lord not be angry, and I shall speak; suppose thirty are found there?" And He said, "I will not do it if I find thirty there." (Genesis 18:30)
    And he said, "Now behold, I have ventured to speak to the Lord; suppose twenty are found there?" And He said, "I will not destroy it on account of the twenty." (Genesis 18:31)
    Then he said, "Oh may the Lord not be angry, and I shall speak only this once; suppose ten are found there?" And He said, "I will not destroy it on account of the ten." (Genesis 18:32)
  23. When morning dawned, the angels urged Lot, saying, "Up, take your wife and your two daughters who are here, or you will be swept away in the punishment of the city." (Genesis 19:15)
  24. However, Rahab the harlot and her father's household and all she had, Joshua spared; and she has lived in the midst of Israel to this day, for she hid the messengers whom Joshua sent to spy out Jericho. (Joshua 6:25)
Last Modified May 17, 2011


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